Mistakes Lawyers Make When Procuring an Expert Witness
Expert witnesses often provide the information and insight necessary to make or break a case. Why, then, do we procrastinate, delegate or simply rush the process of selecting an exceptional expert witness?
The Wrong Way to Locate the Right Expert Witness
Yes, it’s one more thing to do, but taking the time to find the right expert is an investment that pays off. Start sourcing experts more effectively by avoiding these common mistakes.
1. Waiting until the last minute. Rushing the selection process introduces all kinds of risk. When you’re short on time, it’s difficult to find the precise expertise you need, when, where and how you need it (not to mention at the right price). You can end up with an expert that’s just “good enough” — and good enough doesn’t win cases. Last-minute timelines impact your experts, as well. Even if you’ve secured an excellent witness, he or she may not have time to fully investigate and understand the facts of your case, apply the expertise that you’re depending on, or pursue alternative theories and options if necessary. Teamwork and collaboration can break down as well when both parties feel rushed. An ill-prepared expert is ineffective at best, harmful at worst.
2. Sourcing the wrong expert. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Especially in technical situations, such as medical malpractice suits, you may not have the expertise required to determine the best expert for your case. For instance, are you looking for an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist when a neurologist is required? Take a step back and look at the high-level legal questions, especially those that will be posed to the court. What you think is material may not carry as much weight if the expert is not well-suited for your case.
3. Delegating responsibility to someone who doesn’t know the case. The law is often a team sport. However, while handing off expert witness selection to someone less familiar with your case may save time at first, you pay the price down the line. The process often suffers from lack of accountability. Make sure you know who owns the expert witness process, and arm them with the information they need to manage it successfully.
4. Failing to check credentials. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it falls through the cracks surprisingly often. Without thorough vetting, your expert is a potential liability. Undisclosed background information can lead to surprises in and out of court under the questioning of the opposition or media. Even worse, “experts” who are not really experts not only fail to provide value — they can actively damage your case and reputation.
A true expert will have a portfolio of credentials and gladly share it with you. Start there, follow up with Google searches, and check references no matter how concrete they appear. Complete the process with a formal background check to ensure every base is covered.
5. Relying on a standard online database. The Internet has streamlined the process of finding an expert witness. Plug in your requirements and a database spits out a list of matching results. Easy, right? Not so fast. Many expert witness websites rely on outdated, stale data that was provided by the “experts” themselves. Without a comprehensive vetting process, you can’t be sure which witnesses can be trusted, and which are truly leaders in their fields. Online solutions for finding expert witnesses are great, but you’ll need to look beyond the data to find the perfect expert for your case.
Experts can often be the lynchpin in successfully presenting a case. Give the same attention to detail to locating the best expert as you do the other crucial aspects of your trial preparation.
Ingrid Vinci is the founder of Expert Consulting Services (ECS), which helps legal professionals locate suitable expert witnesses and provides guidance to professionals who are qualified to be expert witnesses. Previously Ingrid practiced law in the areas of personal injury, professional negligence, product liability, and premises liability. Follow her @LocateAnExpert.
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