Finding the Right Engineering or Technical Expert

Finding the Right Engineering or Technical Expert — Part II

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 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.

Click here to read Part I

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.


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
Agricultural Machinery Highways
Agriculture and Forestry Human Factors
Air Conditioning Systems Hydraulics
Air Quality Hydraulics and Pneumatics
Aircraft Hydraulics/Hydrology
Aircraft Gas Turbines and Accessories Hydrology
Airports Illumination and Lighting
Amusement Rides Industrial Accidents
Appraisals, Construction Industrial Hygiene
Arbitration Industrial Machinery
Architecture Instrumentation
Auto and Other Vehicular Accidents Ladders and Scaffolds
Automatic Control Systems Land Planning
Automatic Controls Land Surveys
Automotive Engineering Landfills
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
Breakwaters/Bulkheads/Seawalls Marine Machinery
Bridges Marine Structures/Engineering/Machinery
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 Metallurgy
Combustion Problems Microwaves
Combustion Systems Moisture, Weather Penetration in Buildings
Communications Motorcycle Accidents
Computers OSHA Standards
Concrete Operating (Energy) Costs
Condemnation, Land Patents
Construction Pavements (Highways/Roads/Airfields)
Construction Accidents, Hazards and Failures Pavements, Floor Slabs
Construction Claims Petrochemical Plants
Construction Contracting Petroleum Industry Operations
Construction Costs Photogrammetry
Construction Equipment Piles (Foundations)
Construction Failures Pipelines
Construction Inspection Piping Systems
Construction Inspection/Review Planning (Municipal/Regional)
Construction Management Planning (Site/Subdivision)
Construction Schedules, CPM Plumbing
Construction Schedules/Staging Pneumatics
Consumer Products Pollution Control
Contract Documents/Specifications Power Distribution
Contracting and Construction Contracts Power Generation
Corrosion Power Plants
Costs of Construction and Repair Power Transmission
Cranes Power Transmission and Distribution
Crashworthiness Process Engineering
Dams and Levees Process Piping
Dams, Dikes, Levees and Embankments Product Liability
Derricks Product Safety Design
Design Review Public Transportation
Detention Facilities Public Utilities
Drilling Pumping Systems
Electric Power (Buildings) Quality Assurance
Electric Shock Radar
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
Expansive Soil Slips/Trips/Falls
Explosions Soil Mechanics
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
Firearms Structures
Fires Swimming Pools
Fires of Electrical Origin Systems Safety Engineering
Fires, Cause of Tanks
Floods and Storm Water Damage Testing, Materials
Food Processing/Handling Tools
Foundation Failure Toxic Waste Management
Foundation Movement, Settlement, Failure Toxic Wastes and Chemicals
Foundations Trade Secrets
Foundations, Soil Mechanics Traffic and Transportation Engineering
Fracture Analysis Transportation
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 Visibility Evaluations
Groundwater and Water Seepage Walking Surfaces
Guardrails Waste Water
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)
Forensis Group
Thompson-Reuters Expert Witness Service (TREWS)
DJS Forensic
Consolidated Consultants

Appendix D – Online Expert Directories

Thompson Reuters Expert Witness Services
Juris Pro Expert Witness Directory
ALM Experts
SEAK Expert Witness Directory
Expert Pages
National Directory of Expert Witnesses
Expert Witness Network
Expert Witness Directory
Lawinfo Expert Witness Directory
Juris Solutions, Inc.
NACLNC – Legal Nurse Consultants
Westlaw Database Directory
Witness Search
Best’s Directory
NASJVP Expert Witness Directory
Lex Viso
Gavel2Gavel Expert Witness Directory
Washburn University School of Law
Gallagher Law Library


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