Engaging the right expert is a critical factor in securing a positive outcome for your client in a litigation dispute. While performing steps, such as calling references or performing a general internet search, are a good start, the process of verifying an expert's credentials is often over-looked. Thanks to technology, most expert credentials can be verified quickly and easily at little to no cost by accessing publicly available online information.
Expert witnesses will, of course, highlight their accomplishments, such as professional certifications and licenses, educational background, prior testifying experience, and authored publications in order to emphasize their credibility as experts. While the vast majority of experts disclose this information accurately and completely, recent history shows that there are exceptions. Recently, there have been examples of experts overstating or misstating facts about their background with potentially damaging consequences. Taking the time to perform steps such as the ones described below to verify your expert's credentials will provide peace of mind while also potentially preventing future headaches.
Professional Certifications and Licenses
Professional certifications and licenses can be verified for free through the issuing authority's website or through the website of the state issuing the license. The state licensure websites typically provide the license status, such as active, inactive, or expired, and may even include important information such as prior disciplinary actions or suspensions that the license holder has on record.
An easy way (albeit with a small fee) to confirm an expert's educational background is to obtain a degree verification from the online database "National Student Clearinghouse." This database can often confirm undergraduate and graduate degrees issued by the vast majority of higher education institutions in the United States.
If you want to verify an advanced degree such as a PhD, one free way is to confirm the existence of the expert's dissertation. While the existence of a dissertation will not definitively prove the expert has received a PhD, the absence of one should be an item for follow-up. Educational institutions' websites often include listings of dissertations issued, and ProQuest has a "Dissertations & Theses Database" on its website where dissertations can be located and purchased if desired.
Prior Testifying Experience
Some expert witnesses disclose a complete listing of their testifying experience, and experts are required in a federal case to disclose testimony given in the preceding four years. See Rule 26(a)(2)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. There are various legal research databases (e.g., WestlawNext, LexisNexis) that will provide, for a fee, a listing of cases in which your prospective expert has testified. You can use this listing to verify the expert's listed testimony and also review for any undisclosed prior testimony.
Experts often publish articles, whitepapers, studies and other research in their field. If an expert has listed a publication that you want to verify, it is often available for free on the publisher's website or with a paid subscription to the publisher's content. If you are concerned about potentially undisclosed publications authored by the expert, there are many free or subscription search engines that can be used.
Daniel N. Berman is a CPA at Navigant Consulting, Inc.
Keywords: expert witnesses, litigation, credentials, verification, professional licenses, professional certificates