October 31, 2017 article

Tips for Hiring Expert Witnesses Without Wasting Your Time or Your Client’s Money

By Adam Matheson

Your case reaches the pivotal point—you realize you will need an expert to defend against an emotional distress claim, prove damages for a breach of contract in a business dispute, or interpret medical records based on an injury. Whatever the reason for the expert, how do you find a qualified expert without wasting your time? How do you compete with a large firm without breaking the bank? This article explores four tools a solo or small firm can use to find qualified experts in efficient and cost-effective ways: (1) online directories, (2) professors at local colleges and universities, (3) listservs, and (4) your personal network.

As an initial matter, the rules of procedure for admitting an expert are generally minimal. For example, Federal Rule of Evidence 702, among other requirements, provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if [ ] the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. . . .

Fed. R. Evid. 702(a).

  1. Online Directories
    There are numerous free online directories that allow users to search for experts. These directories provide numerous benefits such as allowing users to search by specific practice areas (such as employment, criminal, and insurance) and geographic locations. Examples of such directories are ALMExperts, JurisPro Expert Witness Directory, and SEAK Expert Witness Directory. Most of the directories allow you to access the expert's curriculum vitae and contact information.

    There are a few disadvantages to using online directories to search for experts. First, even though you can filter by legal area and state, some of the filters are broad. This requires you to either know exactly the type of expert you are looking for or spend time narrowing down the scope of the search on your own. Another disadvantage to using an online directory is that you will not know how the expert testifies or presents in person. Even with these downsides, using online directories can be a useful tool when you are starting your search.
  2. Professors at Local Colleges and Universities
    Contacting local professors at colleges and universities is another option. One benefit of this approach is that the professor is local. Having a local professor may resonate with a jury because the jurors may be able to relate better to a local professor instead of a more qualified expert from another jurisdiction. In addition, based on the professor's education, he or she is likely going to be qualified pursuant to the applicable rule to allow him or her to testify as an expert. Finally, unlike a "career expert" who depends on fees to make a living, a professor has another profession and may not charge as much.

    While there are positives to hiring local professors, there are also some drawbacks. If you need the expert to testify regarding a specialized area, a professor might not be specific enough for your case. In addition, a professor may not want to testify as an expert because he or she does not testify for a living. Finally, unlike a "career expert," a professor might not have a lot of experience testifying in legal matters and could be easily discredited by opposing counsel.
  3. Listservs for Specific Practice Areas
    Requesting recommendations on practice-area listservs is another option for finding experts. There are a lot of legal listservs that are offered by national, state, and local bar associations. These listservs generally serve a specific practice area. Joining a listserv in a specific practice area and requesting recommendations from its members provides numerous benefits. First, asking for recommendations allows you to add parameters to your request. For example, you can indicate that you are a solo or small firm and request recommendations for less expensive experts. Second, requesting recommendations from an area-specific listserv allows you to narrow down the practice area. Third, this approach may save a significant amount of time because you will not have to interview a lot of different experts. Finally, when individuals respond to your request for an expert witness, they can explain their interaction with the witness and how the witness acted in their case.

    As with the other potential options for finding an expert witness, this approach also has a few drawbacks. First, it does not allow you to cast a very wide net in your expert search. By asking others on a listserv, you are limiting the scope to only those individuals and to only those who have used expert witnesses in the past. If a particular listserv is not very active, this approach may not be fruitful. Second, requesting recommendations from the members of a listserv may be too broad for your needs. For example, these email lists generally appeal to a broad practice area such as employment or personal injury. Finally, listservs are not limited to a specific jurisdiction, which may mean you will get recommendations for an expert who is far away and would require travel costs.
  4. Your Personal Network
    A final option is to use individuals in your own network as experts. Every lawyer encounters other professionals such as doctors, accountants, or human resource executives. These individuals can qualify as experts pursuant to the applicable rules based on their background. Another benefit to using someone in your network is that the person may charge less or agree to assist for free. Finally, this option allows flexibility because you can teach the person how to testify in court.

    There are shortcomings, however, to using someone from your network. One weakness is that the person might not have any experience testifying. If this is the case, you will have to spend additional time teaching your acquaintance how to testify. Similar to the other options, this approach also might not yield an expert that has knowledge of information that is specific to the facts of your case.

Conclusion

Overall, there are several options that solo and small firms may use to obtain expert witnesses without spending a lot of money. Using a number of these approaches in combination can help cut down the time you spend looking for an expert. These approaches may also save money while presenting a strong case for your client.

Adam Matheson is an associate at Carmen D. Caruso Law Firm in Chicago, Illinois.


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