COVID 19 Twist: Attorneys are using the internet from home to find experts, replacing “word of mouth” referrals from colleagues 

Directories and Referral Services Serve Attorneys with a Single Purpose: To Simplify Finding Experts.

They exist, however, because there is money to be made for them.

It isn’t inherently evil, but your decisions should be driven by the company you keep: services that protect and enhance your reputation for impartiality and integrity, and command of your field.

Make an informed decision. Following is a primer about the most common models that bring attorneys and doctors together.

I will discuss 

  1. Expert Witness Directories
  2. Referral Services (Attorney Pays)
  3. Intermediary Service (They markup the doctor’s fees and keep the difference)
  4. Matchmaker Services (who pays can vary)
  5. Panel Services (Physician generally must accept a lower fee but they are not paying for the referral)

Attorneys struggle to find an Expert Witness in a unique specialization for a particular case. For example, a car accident where there is a claim of Emotional Distress, or perhaps a Competency Expert in a probate case, or Surgical Protocol Expert in a medical malpractice case.  

Don’t be a needle in a haystack

Imagine you are an attorney. You are searching across the internet for someone with particular expertise and medical-legal experience. It is time-consuming, and thus expensive, and often fruitless for attorneys. Add that they do not know medical terms of art and thus may search with the wrong terms, making it even harder to find the right Expert.

The Doctor’s Perspective

Being “findable” isn’t accomplished intuitively.

Establishing a presence in the legal community from ground zero is a tall order, especially if the attorney who needs your expertise in fact has a niche practice area are of their own, like medical malpractice in inpatient facilities, or medical product liability (people litigate over almost anything.)

You are a needle in a haystack, unless you intentionally change that.

 

This article is written for Experts, but all content is useful for attorneys.

Is it Advertising and is that bad?
NO, and Here’s Why.

Developing your practice in an ethically sound manner is an acceptable best-practice and attorneys know it.

“A physician may publicize him or herself…provided that the communication…shall not be misleading…false or…operate to deceive.”

American Medical Association, Ethics Guidelines [1]

Won’t Juries Think I’m a Hired Gun, since I was found in a directory listing I paid for?

NO. You are not a volunteer. This is no surprise to triers of fact (or attorneys.)

“I have kids to feed,” testified forensic psychologist Max Wachtel, PhD, when questioned about promoting his practice online.

This response produced a good laugh from the jury and shut down the line of questioning in its tracks.

Is it Advertising and is that bad?
NO, and Here’s Why.

Developing your practice in an ethically sound manner is an acceptable best-practice and attorneys know it.

“A physician may publicize him or herself…provided that the communication…shall not be misleading…false or…operate to deceive.”

American Medical Association, Ethics Guidelines [1]
Won’t Juries Think I’m a Hired Gun, since I was found in a directory listing that I paid for?

NO. You are not a volunteer. This is no surprise to triers of fact (or attorneys.)

“I have kids to feed,” testified forensic psychologist Max Wachtel, PhD, when questioned about promoting his practice online.

This response produced a good laugh from the jury and shut down the line of questioning in its tracks

Understand how the services work so you can make the best decisions.

Model 1: A Directory Where the Expert pays to be listed.

I will only address the most reputable and effective directories.

Why attorneys use directories. Because the pool of experts is large so they can find relevant doctors to call. Plus, it is free to them, always a powerful motivation. (Don’t judge: you will benefit from this for the models described below which are free to you.)

Upside for you.

You control how your practice is characterized.

  • You craft the profile and describe in your own words your practice. E.g. you can state that you work for both plaintiff and defense (unbiased).
  • You select the areas of practice for which you want to be found in a search. Usually, a list is provided and blanks for you to add a description (e.g. you check a box for employment litigation and write in “Fitness for Duty”.  The options are excellent in most medical specialties.)
  • Attorney can download your cv. Email and a link to a website are provided. Most directories give you the option to post articles and video, reviewed for relevance and professionalism. 

Downside. It is possible an attorney will try to give juries the impression you are a mercenary who has paid for the case. This is easily deflected.

How much will it cost? Listings cost as little as $299 a year up to $1500. In my considerable experience with these services, there is no relationship between how much you pay and how many cases you get. Further, a single case can justify the cost.

You own the referral and the relationship you establish with an attorney who found you in a directory will serve you well down the line. 

Tiered options are available from most Directories– you pay more for better exposure, like being listed near the top of the page.

Listing from JurisPro, one of several prominent directories. Reprinted with JurisPro’s permission. This isn’t an endorsement and no compensation has been received from JurisPro. 

Free to the expert; Listing is online, Attorney pays. 

In this model, you are listed, your bio is featured. The attorney pays for access to contact you.

In the best scenario, you can write your own profile. At worst, they write the profile following an internal template. It may not present you the way you would yourself, or it may do a better job based on their experience of what attorneys ask.

One highly regarded referral service always begins with every Expert’s education–even if the expert went to medical school 40 years ago, or graduated from a less than stellar school followed by esteemed Fellowship, reputation in the field, publications, and appointments, etc.

However, I recommend this service to my clients because they have an excellent reputation with attorneys for providing top-notch Experts. And they cost the Expert nothing, It is low-hanging fruit. Nevertheless, I do not feel the “form” profile best serves every Expert, but the benefits outweigh the negatives.

The template listing looks something like this–same type of experts as above.

  • No name; anonymized perhaps with an ID number.
  • Photo, if the service allows it. Likely there are no links to phone, email or website, because it would enable the attorney to bypass the service and go straight to the Expert, cutting out the Service’s income stream. The profile itself might look like this for every listed Expert:

Example 1: “This expert in Psychiatry graduated from University of the Azors in 2016 and is licensed in California and New York. The expert has 4 years of experience as a clinical psychiatrist and has consulted on military PTSD cases and Landlord-Tenant disputes. [Button “Submit your case to learn more.” The button opens a form for the attorney to describe the case; the service brokers access to the Expert.]

Example 2: “This expert in Engineering graduated from MIT in 1989 and is licensed in Maryland. The expert has 20 years of experience testifying in construction defect, product liability and negligence cases. [Button…etc. same as above.}

Matchmaker” Model.  Attorney pays a case-by-case referral fee.

Online Matchmaker Sites

No profile of any kind is made available publicly on the website–only a “submit your case” form. The ‘matchmaker’ is essentially a head hunter (though “referral service” sounds less mercenary.)

They are a gatekeeper; you provide your profile and credentials to them, and they hold it. Often the attorney pays at the time an expert is retained. There is no distinction between a “consultant” and a disclosed Expert.

While you enjoy no name recognition benefit, you can get cases from several such services. 

Avoid defense- or plaintiff-weighted services. Ask if you don’t know.

Affiliation with a one-sided service (e.g. just defense) can damage your reputation for objectivity and credibility.

Interestingly, defense- weighted services include a substantial number who work only for insurance companies. Their business model is to low-ball the Expert’s fees, paying on average as little as 50% of the Expert’s usual fee. They demand a fast-track turnaround and adherence to their own protocol. Most Experts will be approached by such services at some point. In every case I recommend against signing up if the service’s reputation cannot be verified. 

Offline Matchmakers: These are individuals or small firms that curate relationships with specific attorneys and specific experts. They may “cold call” to develop new relationships with attorneys and Experts. Old-fashioned networking is always relevant. Generally the attorney initiates a call and the matchmaker determines which Experts are best suited to the case before making the introduction. A fee is usually paid by the attorney.  Shout out to Yentas everywhere.

Fee Mark-up Model. You bill the service, they mark up your fees and bill the attorney. The mark-up is usually 25%-45% and they keep the difference. They hold strict middle-man control. Do not assume all attorneys resent the mark-up. Attorneys may receive value-added features like access to experts vetted by the service. One such service has a loyal attorney client base, very willing to pay the mark-up.

Budget

Financial Benefits to Using a Directory or Referral Service

The directory carries the cost of promoting you. You tap someone else’s marketing budget. Most services spend big to get their Experts in front of the attorneys. You may pay for the listing, but their investment is likely greater than your own.

Test it.  Search online for “Psychiatrist Expert Witness.” A directory or referral service is likely to dominate the first pages of search results, only then followed by a website of a real and specific person.

Directory is a resource accessed by many attorneys to whom you do not have access. One directory reaches millions of attorneys through a clever relationship with the legal database LexisNexis (expensive) and large law firm in-house resources. Others have been in practice for decades and have a large internal database.

Your own website will never rank as high as a directory in Google search results due to Google’s algorithmThe directory listing that provides a direct link to your website means they paid the cost for traffic to your site. Your site is your best practice development tool so this is a great outcome.

CHOOSING

  • Prioritize reputation and prominence. Google them. Ask colleagues what they know.
  • Company you keep. Review the quality of other experts in your field who have listed. Will you be among respected colleagues?
  • Access to data. What can the service tell you about their track record? Do they provide how often your profile is viewed? What is the frequency of “click-throughs” to your website? How often do attorneys search the terms relevant to your practice? It isn’t a deal-killer. One excellent directory keeps no data at all. But data is always useful in…everything.

Tip for You.  If you’re not sure a Directory or Referral Service will reflect well on you, look up your area of expertise to see who else is listed. If you see any familiar faces, or colleagues of substance, then you know you are in good company. If someone is listed whom you know personally, you might call that person and ask them about their experience with the service or Directory.

CONCLUSION

Directories and referral services for Expert Witnesses work. They produce cases and income. They increase the visibility of you and your practice. Choose wisely and your time and money is well-spent.

[1] Full quote from the AMA

“There are no restrictions on advertising by physicians except those that can be specifically justified to protect the public from deceptive practices. A physician may publicize him or herself as a physician through any commercial publicity or other form of public communication (including any newspaper, magazine, telephone directory, radio, television, direct mail, or other advertising) provided that the communication shall not be misleading because of the omission of necessary material information, shall not contain any false or misleading statement, or shall not otherwise operate to deceive.”    American Medical Association, Code of Medical Ethics and Opinion 9.6.1

Author, Beryl Vaughan, draws on 34 years of experience with attorneys and experts. She consults to grow and market a forensic practice. She has unique, but not exclusive, experience in forensic mental health fields including psychiatry and psychology, and helps experts in other medical-legal fields.

More articles and tips are available at https://www.forensicexpertpro.com/practical-articles.

Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant
Nationwide

Email go@forensicexpertpro.com or Call (415) 302-9589

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