COVID 19 Twist: Attorneys are using the internet from home to find experts, replacing “word of mouth” referrals from colleagues, including an attorney down the hall at work.  

Take the Frustration Out of Connecting Attorneys with Experts

Attorneys struggle to find an Expert Witness in a unique specialization. Emotional distress,  for example, after a car accident, or perhaps a competency expert in a probate case.  Searching internet-wide is time-consuming and frustrating. The Expert must be “findable” and that is not the case for most Experts.  It’s not easy for Experts either trying to be “findable” or simply establishing a presence in the legal community, especially if they have a niche practice area.

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

The lowest-hanging fruit is Directories and Referral Services which are easy to set up and widely used by attorneys.

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

What is an Expert Directory?

Directories list Expert Witnesses by knowledge-base and credentials on a website so attorneys can easily search for someone with specific expertise.

They are powerful marketing tools for Experts and fulfill a service to attorneys, if the directory has a sound reputation.

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]

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

“I have kids to feed,” testified Max Wachtel, a  forensic psychologist,  producing a good laugh from the jury.

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

“I have kids to feed,” testified Max Wachtel, a  forensic psychologist,  producing a good laugh from the jury.

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 reviewing the case; often information about the Expert is anonymous. A Directory, however, provides a list of Experts found by name or area of expertise. The “list” includes a profile, written by the expert, and contact options. 

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.

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. Experts have the most control over what attorneys learn about them and can apply their personal ethical characterization of their 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: Clickable Phone, Email, Website and CV buttons. Buttons to articles the Expert has posted on the Directory’s website.
  • 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). No links to phone, email or website that because it would allow the attorney to bypass the service straight to the expert, and cut out the service’s income stream. The profile 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 psychologist and has consulted on 2 Veteran PTSD cases and 2 cases in 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 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 or those that will low-ball your fees. Affiliation with a one-sided service (e.g. just defense) can damage your reputation for objectivity and credibility.

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, like frequency of “click-throughs” to your website and searches under your profession and keywords? Call any familiar faces listed on the directory and ask them about their experience.

CONCLUSION

Directories and referral services for Expert Witnesses work. They produce 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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