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 take the frustration out of finding Experts.

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. 

Searching across the internet for someone with a particular expertise and medical-legal experience is time-consuming and often fruitless for attorneys. Variables include using the right terms–knowing how doctors describe their own expertise. Further, you, the Expert, must be “findable” and that is often not the case. 

It’s not easy for Experts either.  Being “findable” isn’t accomplished intuitively. Also, characterizing your knowledge-base in a way that aligns with the search terms used by the attorney is as mysterious for the Expert as it was for the attorney.  Lastly, establishing a presence in the legal community is a tall order, especially if the attorney has a niche practice area that fits with your niche medical expertise.

Anything that makes it easier for an attorney to find an Expert is an asset to both.

Directories and Referral Services are Low-Hanging Fruit

Listing with a Directory is easy to set up, as you’ll see below. Referral Services are trickier but, on the other hand, will do more of the legwork for you. Both are widely used by attorneys. You don’t need specialist training to sign up, which is why it’s low-hanging fruit.

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

What is an Expert Directory?

Directories are generally provided online (2 services also distribute a print directory to their mailing list of attorneys.)  The Directory has a search feature via which an attorney will find a listing of Expert Witnesses who self-identify for that topic and knowledge-base.  

Directories are powerful marketing tools for Experts only if the directory has a sound reputation for the professionalism, credentials and experience of the listed Experts.  If not, your alignment with a disreputable directory can damage your reputation. I’ll explain below how to navigate those waters.

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

To make the best and most ethical decision, you should understand how the services work.

How is a Referral Service Different From a Directory?  The Referral Service coordinates an introduction between attorney and Expert after internally reviewing the case. The Expert is presented anonymously.

A Directory, on the other hand, provides a list of Experts found by name or area of expertise. The “list” includes a profile or bio written by the Expert, and contact options provided by the Expert. 

Both referral services and directories can produce work and neither should be discounted. 

How the Referral Service or Directory Makes Money and Why It Matters

There are 4 basic income stream models for these services. They differ in terms of

  • how they control information about you;
  • your freedom to write your own bio and emphasize what is important to you about your practice;
  • Their profit stream–to ensure you affiliate with unbiased, respected companies.

Model 1: the Expert pays to be listed. This is the model of the most successful directories because attorneys don’t have to pay to find good Experts.

By “successful” I mean Experts are receiving calls and being retained by the attorneys who found that Expert in that directory.

Further, in a directory listing for which the Expert paid, the Expert also has the most control over what attorneys learn about them. This includes the ability to apply a personal ethical characterization of the Expert’s experience.

Experts can pay 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 usually pays for the cost of the service: return on investment is high.

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

The listing of an Expert-paid directory usually includes:

  • Photo
  • Contact options such as clickable Phone, Email, Website and CV buttons. The Expert can post articles on the Directory’s website and the listing includes buttons to those articles. The result is direct, easy access to information for the attorney’s convenience.
  • Bio written by the expert is front and center. There may be a character limit. You write the bio and have maximum control.

Listing from JurisPro, one of several prominent directories. Reprinted with JurisPro’s permission.

Free to the expert; Listing is online, Attorney pays. 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 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-there is no downside. Nevertheless, I do not feel the “form” profile best serves every Expert.

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. No profile of any kind is provided–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. While you enjoy no name recognition benefit, you can get cases from several such services. 

Avoid defense- or plaintiff-weighted services. 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 25% of the Expert’s usual fee. They demand a fast-track turnaround and adherence to their own protocol. Most Experts with whom I work have been approached by such services at some point. In every case I recommend against signing up if the service’s reputation cannot be verified.

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.

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.

For example, one directory reaches millions of attorneys through a clever relationship with the legal database LexisNexis and large law firm in-house resources. That’s expensive. Much more expensive than your listing cost.

Your own website will never rank as high as a directory in Google search results due to Google’s algorithmIf you have a website, it is more likely on the 2nd or 5th or 20th page of Google results. A directory listing, however, bypasses Google by providing a direct link to your website. Your site is your best practice development tool so this is a great outcome.

CHOOSING

You should select directories based on their reputation and prominence. Google them. Review the quality of other experts in your field who have listed. Will you be among respected colleagues? What can the service tell you about their track record? Do they keep data? For example, can they tell you the frequency of “click-throughs” to your website, or searches under your profession and its specialties?

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.

When attorneys need to find “niche” experts, like medical specialists, or, say, bridge design engineers, etc., a directory is a logical resource. These services are a valuable piece of a marketing strategy to develop forensic work.

[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 33 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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