This post has been updated in light of changes in a post COVID-19 World.
What is an Expert Witness Directory or Referral Service? Do They have Value for a Forensic Professional?
Dozens of online databases of Expert Witnesses exist for the convenience of attorneys seeking an Expert Witness in a particular field. Online services also exist that provide attorneys with an introduction to experts with case-specific qualifications.
In a COVID-19 quarantine world, law firms and solo attorneys are conducting business as usual at home. Even as the economy is “reopening” and attorneys are returning to the office, personal contact with forensic experts is out of the question.
Promotion online is even more crucial than ever before. Consider that directories and online referral services are replacing word-of-mouth referrals at an escalated pace.
What can a Directory or Referral Service Do for Me and Attorneys?
Attorneys benefit because they can quickly find expert witnesses by name and specialization. Experts benefit because attorneys can find them easily. Such services can be a powerful marketing tool for you when selected for maximum cost-benefit.
Run a Test: Google “Forensic Psychiatrist” or “Forensic Psychologist”–or a term specific to your expertise. Directories and referral services frequently come up before your site or those of your colleagues. (Companion article “Is Google God?”)
How the Referral Service or Directory Makes Money and Why It Matters
There are 4 basic income stream models for these services.
Free to the expert. You are listed, your bio is featured by your name and areas of expertise. You pay nothing. Examples:
A. Attorney Pays a Subscription Fee to Access Listings. The attorney pays a fee either monthly or annually.
(1) The subscription fee gives the attorney access to the online directory with a private login, or
(2) Attorneys can view the directory without logging in but must have an account to get the name and contact information for a particular expert. Attorneys may also receive a print directory.
Generally, experts are rendered “anonymous” by an Identification ID vs. a name. Photos may not appear. Profile and credentials are prominent.
The expert gets no name recognition. Experts do get cases.
B. Attorney pays a case-by-case referral fee. Referral Service is a matchmaker/headhunter and usually vets the experts. Like the subscription model, the service is usually a gatekeeper; you provide your profile and credentials to them, and they hold your name and contact information close to the vest. The attorney pays at the time an expert is retained.
In some cases, there is no public access to the expert listings. An attorney must submit a form describing the case and type of expert needed. The service then sends a shortlist of the experts they feel are best suited to the case.
C. Attorney pays a mark-up to your fees. This service gets you the case, marks up your fees (usually 25%-45%), keeping the difference. They receive your bill, invoice the attorney, and pay your invoice. They keep strict middle-man control. Attorneys may receive value-added features like access to vetted experts. This is a lucrative model for the service, and it is employed by a number of companies. They do not all enjoy a good reputation with attorneys. One, however, has a loyal attorney client base, very willing to pay the mark-up.
Expert pays to be listed. This is a popular model with attorneys because they don’t have to pay to find good experts. For the expert, there are usually tiered options: you pay more for better exposure, like being listed near the top of the page.
PROS AND CONS
Expert Pays to Be Listed
A. You have the option to include keywords or select the categories under which you are listed, distinguishing you from other experts in your field. “Categories” might include testamentary capacity, Emotional Distress, Competency, or specific mental health conditions. You choose what describes best your practice.
B. You write your own profile, retaining control over the accuracy and tenor of what is presented to the attorney and, importantly, the relevance of your practice.
C. You can post articles, video and audio.
D. Your listing provides a downloadable copy of your CV, a list of your credentials, a clickable link to your website or to send you an email, your phone number and address.
Contacting you is effortless for the attorney.
Con. It costs you money. Costs can range from $300/year to $2,000/year. That said, even one new case can pay for the cost of the listing. In my experience, there is not always a correlation between cost and results. In fact, the least expensive of the paid directories is far more productive than the one that is most expensive. Do your research before signing up, or call and I’ll gladly fill in the details.
Attorney pays a fee to view listings, expert pays nothing.
Pro. The attorney has a buy-in and will be more selective about the Experts they contact. Thus, attorneys who call you are more likely to retain you, because you are already of interest.
Con. The attorney is paying for access to a private, presumably elite database. You cannot see who else is listed or distinguish yourself from colleagues in a profile/bio or even CV which you have crafted for particular areas of law and litigation.
Listing is free but the service marks up your fee
Pro. If an attorney is willing to pay the mark-up and the service is well-regarded, there is no downside.
Con. Unless you insist, no retention contract exists between you and the attorney. The service is entering into one contractual relationship with the attorney, and another with you. This is serious because a retention contract establishes your role, provides you with protections, right to withdraw from a case, perhaps travel parameters, and, of course, significant legal and ethical considerations.
A possible workaround is a retention contract between you and the attorney that contains no reference to fees, billing or collections, and those references defer to the service. You can spell out whether you are serving as a retained and disclosed Expert Witness or as a private consultant.
Financial Benefits to Using Any 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 will always be 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.
Someone else bears the cost of your SEO–which can be pricey. “SEO” or Search Engine Optimization, describes an intentional strategy to improve how early a website appears in a Google search. SEO is not DIY. The directory’s own aggressive and expensive SEO tactics save you money, especially if your listing contains a link to your website. If you Google “Expert Witness in [your field]” you will likely see 5 or 6 directories or referral services appear before the site of a specific doctor or expert.
Your own website will not do as well as the directory in Google search results. If you have a website, it is more likely on the 2nd or 5th or 20th page of Google results.
In addition to SEO tactics, most directories include a link to your website, increasing direct traffic.
Your site is where an attorney will learn more about you than the directory’s profile can provide.
Because you have ultimate control over everything on your website, and no character or word limits (the case with at least 2 directories) your site is the best place for an attorney to land in order to find a comprehensive description of your qualifications, credentials, affiliations and background.
IS IT ADVERTISING AND IS THAT BAD?
Doctors sometimes ask me if a listing constitutes “advertising” and if “advertising” is an accusation that would cast them in a negative light.
No. Promoting your practice is an acceptable best-practice.
As one forensic psychologist said on the stand about marketing his practice, “I have kids to feed,” producing a laugh from the jury.
You are not a volunteer. You are in business. Further, you cannot serve as an Expert Witness if your expertise cannot be found by an attorney. Judges and juries understand this.
You’ll find most of the top forensic professionals in your field on the best directories. In fact, if you don’t then you shouldn’t list there.
Select directories based on their reputation and prominence.
Review the quality of the Experts listed—will you be among respected colleagues?
What can the service tell you about their track record? Ask!
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.
Check for biases:
The service is not linked to only plaintiff or defense cases.
The service does not negotiate down your fees or pay a flat fee for your services. (IME Mills are notorious for this.)
Research each service and see what the internet has to say. This is what opposing counsel will do, so you should do it first.
Directories and referral services for Expert Witnesses work–at least those that meet ethical and best-practices standards. They produce income. They increase the visibility of you and your practice.
When attorneys need to find “niche” experts, like forensic psychiatrists or psychologists, a directory is a logical resource. These services are a valuable piece of a marketing strategy to develop forensic work.
**Danger, Will Robinson! Avoid referral services that are biased to “defense experts” or “plaintiff experts.” It is essential to steer clear of such companies.
Updated Summer 2020.
Author, Beryl Vaughan, specializes in the promotion / marketing / practice growth of the practices of forensically-trained Experts in Medicine and Mental Health with special non-exclusive focus on Board-Certified Forensic Psychiatrists and Forensic Psychologists. She has a combined 30 years of experience in the fields of marketing and business consulting with forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, and law practice management.
More articles and tips are available at https://www.forensicexpertpro.com.