By Michael D. Leshner, P.E
Eight ways to start:
Finding and vetting expert candidates can be difficult and time consuming, but selection of the right expert can be pivotal to the case outcome.
The various engineering disciplines are listed in Appendix A. Some technical specialties are listed in Appendix B. These appendices are included to help stimulate your thinking as you consider the kind of expertise needed for each case.
There are a number of different paths to selection and retention of the appropriate expert for each case.
1. Expert Referral Services
Of all the various methods for finding an expert, this one requires the least time and effort. One phone call or email to an expert referral service can get the process started. Some attorneys shop multiple referral services for potential expert candidates. Others call their favorite service and their favorite person there, and tend to work exclusively with one person whenever they need an expert.
Referral services can help you to determine what kind of expertise may be needed, and put you in touch with candidates. Once an expert has been selected, the service steps back and gets involved in the billing and collection process only. While an agency can pre-screen candidates, it is still up to you to speak with the candidates and perform your chemistry test.
Referral services can save you time and effort, for which they add a fee. Most services add about 30 to 40 percent to the expert’s hourly fee. Some others collect a one-time referral fee from the attorney. Regardless of the fee arrangement, you work directly with the expert.
Some services use a database to find suitable experts and some do it the old fashioned way – by knowing a cadre of experts in different fields that they have worked with successfully. The services listed in Appendix C are not a complete list, but the ones I have worked with in the last few years.
2. Online Expert Directories
There are dozens of online expert witness directories, and many claim to be the biggest, oldest, have the most hits, or have the best experts. Some offer free listings to experts and charge attorneys for a search. Others charge the experts for a listing and offer a free search. A few online expert directories are free to all, and carry advertising.
If you are comfortable with internet searches, online directories can be helpful to identify potential experts within a technical specialty or geographic area. Most directories provide contact information so you can contact the candidates directly.
An advantage of this method is that there should be no referral agency fee added to the expert’s fee. However, you must do your own homework on each candidate. There are online resources for that, too. Methods for researching the background on individual experts are outlined in section 5 on Internet Search. Some Online Expert Witness Directories are listed below in Appendix D.
Keep in mind the fact that online directories are like the telephone book: information regarding the quality of an advertiser’s service is left for the reader to investigate.
3. Attorney conferences
Bar association conferences often include sponsors who set up displays at the meeting venue. Engineering firms often pay for a table or booth, and send representatives you can meet and talk with. Such person-to-person exchanges have a better than average chance of resulting in a working relationship.
Meeting the potential expert face-to-face is the best way to decide whether he (or his firm) is in or out.
4. Print media
Plaintiff and Defense Bar organizations (AAJ and DRI) each publish a national journal with paid advertising by expert referral agencies, firms and individuals. As with other forms of paid advertising, competence is not required to place an advertisement. However, these media are an effective way for experts to reach attorneys.
Some cities have local daily newspapers geared toward attorneys, with classified advertising by experts, court reporters and other service providers.
Many state and local Bar Associations publish journals and annual directories with paid advertising for legal service providers, including expert witness services. An advantage of using these providers is that they are usually local, minimizing overall costs for their services.
However, when an expert purchases advertising, it does not guarantee the expert’s competence or effectiveness. Advertising in print media is an effective way for experts to get their name in front of attorneys, but you must do your homework and check the references. Ask who they have worked for in your town. Ask who they have worked against.
5. Internet search
Depending on your expertise as a searcher, search engines like Google can be your best or worst friend. Most experts and expert firms have a web presence, and their expertise is described on their website. An experienced web-searcher can find potential experts by searching keywords, phrases, or combinations. An email contact can start the discussion going. By doing your own search, you eliminate the fee charged by referral agencies, but take on additional responsibility for vetting the candidates.
In addition to finding potential experts for your case, there are useful internet resources for checking a candidate’s credentials and background, and checking up on the opposing side’s experts as well. Most states have a web-based process for checking the licensing status of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.
In this age of limited privacy, a simple internet search of nearly anyone can yield a wealth of personal information. It is likely that technical experts will have their name mentioned in reported cases, articles and their own writings.
The downside of this method for finding an expert is that unless you are a focused and experienced searcher, you can waste a lot of time getting lost in the web. Very often, the youngest associate or paralegal in the office will be the most proficient internet searcher.
6. Legal research
You already make use of tools such as Lexis-Nexis and other resources for attorneys. As you find reported cases similar to the one of interest, make note of the experts on both sides. Make note of the attorneys and give them a call.
Many of the same providers attorneys use for legal research also have an expert witness directory. Some are listed in Appendix D.
7. Word-of-Mouth referrals – attorneys
When an attorney calls me for the first time, it is often the result of a suggestion by another attorney. Your network of attorney friends and associates can be a valuable resource when you need to hire an expert. The approach can be simple and informal, such as an inter-office email:
“Looking for an expert to handle a case involving failure of an underground water main resulting in flood damage. Do you know anyone?”
The same kind of informal message can be posted to attorney email groups. The benefit of a referral from another attorney is that you are unlikely to get the names of experts that were not effective. You might also give more or less weight to referrals depending on the person who provided the referral.
At times, you or a colleague may be impressed by an opposing expert. Keep their contact information for next time.
8. Word-of-Mouth referrals – other experts
Over time, we all develop a network of people with whom we enjoy working and whose opinions we trust. Whether for personal or professional reasons, or for reasons unknown, we share loyalties with a select group of people. If you have worked successfully with a technical expert, stay in touch. If you have need for a particular expertise, ask the expert friend for help. Consultants soon learn that it is good business to do a favor for a former client.
Most experts know and work with other experts, belong to professional associations and communicate with other experts using email list-serves. While these channels are not primarily for referring consulting assignments, connections occur through this informal network naturally, resulting in attorney-expert introductions.
I know a few attorneys who contact me whenever they have difficulty finding an expert, and I am always happy to help them. I usually refer members of the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (nafe.org). NAFE promotes the ethical and professional practice of forensic engineering, and provides continuing education on advanced practice topics. Many of the most highly qualified and experienced experts are members of NAFE.
About the Author
Michael D. Leshner, P.E. is a Board Certified Forensic Engineer and has testified in the courts as an expert since 1982. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Forensic Engineers, Chairman of the Education Committee, and is on the Board of Directors. www.expertlabs.com
Appendix A – Engineering Disciplines
|Aeronautical Engineer||Land Surveyor|
|Aerospace Engineer||Materials Engineer|
|Agricultural Engineer||Mechanical Engineer|
|Architecture/Architectural Engineer||Metallurgical Engineer|
|Automotive Engineer||Mining Engineer|
|Bio/Biomedical Engineer||Municipal Engineer|
|Chemical Engineer||Naval Architecture/Marine Engineer|
|Civil Engineer||Nuclear Engineer|
|Computer Engineer||Ocean Engineer|
|Construction Engineer||Petroleum Engineer|
|Control Systems Eng.||Planning Engineer|
|Electrical Engineer||Plumbing Engineer|
|Electronics Engineer||Safety Engineer|
|Environmental Engineer||Sanitary Engineer|
|Fire Protection Engineer||Soil Engineer|
|Geological/Geophysical Engineer||Structural Engineer|
|Heat, Ventilation & Air Conditioning Engineer||Systems and Control Engineer|
|Highway Engineer||Transportation Engineer|
|Industrial Engineer||Welding Engineer|
Appendix B – Technical Specialties
|Accident Investigation/Analysis/Reconstruction||Heavy Equipment|
|Acoustics||Highway Geometric Design|
|Agriculture and Forestry||Human Factors|
|Air Conditioning Systems||Hydraulics|
|Air Quality||Hydraulics and Pneumatics|
|Aircraft Gas Turbines and Accessories||Hydrology|
|Airports||Illumination and Lighting|
|Amusement Rides||Industrial Accidents|
|Appraisals, Construction||Industrial Hygiene|
|Auto and Other Vehicular Accidents||Ladders and Scaffolds|
|Automatic Control Systems||Land Planning|
|Automatic Controls||Land Surveys|
|Batteries||Landslides and Slope Failure|
|Biomechanics||Life Safety Codes|
|Blasting Damage||Lightning (Protection/Damage)|
|Boat Hulls and Machinery||Lumber/Machinery|
|Boating Accidents||Machine Design|
|Boilers and Burners||Machine Guarding and Safety|
|Brake and Steering Defects||Machinery Related Accidents|
|Brakes and Steering||Maintenance|
|Building Codes||Materials Failures|
|Building Codes, Electrical||Materials Handling|
|Building Collapse||Materials Testing/Failures|
|Building Inspection||Mechanical Design|
|Chemical Plant Explosions||Mechanical Systems (Buildings)|
|Coal Mining||Mechanical Systems in Buildings|
|Cogeneration||Mechanical and Products Design|
|Cold Weather Engineering and Permafrost||Mediation|
|Combustion Systems||Moisture, Weather Penetration in Buildings|
|Concrete||Operating (Energy) Costs|
|Construction Accidents, Hazards and Failures||Pavements, Floor Slabs|
|Construction Claims||Petrochemical Plants|
|Construction Contracting||Petroleum Industry Operations|
|Construction Equipment||Piles (Foundations)|
|Construction Inspection||Piping Systems|
|Construction Inspection/Review||Planning (Municipal/Regional)|
|Construction Management||Planning (Site/Subdivision)|
|Construction Schedules, CPM||Plumbing|
|Consumer Products||Pollution Control|
|Contract Documents/Specifications||Power Distribution|
|Contracting and Construction Contracts||Power Generation|
|Costs of Construction and Repair||Power Transmission|
|Cranes||Power Transmission and Distribution|
|Dams and Levees||Process Piping|
|Dams, Dikes, Levees and Embankments||Product Liability|
|Derricks||Product Safety Design|
|Design Review||Public Transportation|
|Detention Facilities||Public Utilities|
|Electric Power (Buildings)||Quality Assurance|
|Electrical Accidents||Rail/Highway Crossings|
|Electrical Codes||Railroad Accidents/Derailments|
|Electrical Failure Analysis||Railroad Crossings/Derailment|
|Electrical Ground Fault Protection||Rates and Tariffs|
|Electrical Power Generation||Recreational Facilities|
|Electrical Product Design||Residential, Condominium, High-Rise|
|Electrical Safety||Retaining Walls|
|Electrical Safety/Shock/Accidents||Roadside Hazards and Structures|
|Electrical Systems (Buildings)||Roadway Design|
|Electrical Systems (Utilities/Industrial)||Roofs|
|Electro-Mechanical Accidents and Failures||Roofs (Systems/Failures)|
|Electromechanical Systems||Safety Orders, Electric Power Distribution|
|Elevators, Escalators, Moving Walkways||Sanitation|
|Energy Management||Seat Belts|
|Environmental Assessment||Seat Belts/Air Bags/Restraint Systems|
|Environmental Protection||Settling, Structure|
|Equipment Failure Analysis||Sewage Collection/Treatment|
|Ergonomics||Sewerage and Sewage Treatment|
|Erosion (Soil)||Shore Protection|
|Excavations, Trenches||Site Development|
|Fans and Air Handling Equipment||Stairways|
|Farm Machinery||Steel Structures|
|Fire Codes||Storm Drainage|
|Fire Egress||Streets and Highways|
|Fire Protection Systems (Alarms, Sprinklers)||Structural Design/Analysis|
|Fire Safety||Structural Failure|
|Fires of Electrical Origin||Systems Safety Engineering|
|Fires, Cause of||Tanks|
|Floods and Storm Water Damage||Testing, Materials|
|Foundation Failure||Toxic Waste Management|
|Foundation Movement, Settlement, Failure||Toxic Wastes and Chemicals|
|Foundations, Soil Mechanics||Traffic and Transportation Engineering|
|Gas Processing Plants||Underground Utilities|
|Gas, High Pressure||Utility Rates|
|Gas, LP or Natural||Utility Systems|
|Geology, Geophysics||Vapor Dispersion|
|Glass Materials||Vehicular Accidents|
|Grading, Drainage||Ventilation Systems|
|Grain Handling, Drying, Storage||Vibrations|
|Groundwater and Water Seepage||Walking Surfaces|
|Hazardous Conditions||Water Production/Wells|
|Hazardous Conditions in Buildings||Water Quality|
|Hazardous Wastes||Water Supply and Distribution|
|Hazardous or Toxic Wastes||Waterfront Construction|
|Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning||Welding|
|Heating, Ventilating & Air Conditioning||Wood Structures|
Appendix C – Expert Referral Agencies
|Technical Advisory Service for Attorneys (TASA)||http://www.tasanet.com/|
|Thompson-Reuters Expert Witness Service (TREWS)||http://trexpertwitness.com|
Appendix D – Online Expert Directories
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