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Case Management: The gift that keeps on giving.

Attorneys are used to hand-holding Experts. Be the exception.
Your workflow techniques can mirror those of an attorney, keeping everyone on the same page.

 

By Beryl Vaughan

Case Management is a workflow model 

In a law firm, case management is a well-developed systems protocol, usually carried out by paraprofessionals and junior attorneys. In a large firm, the Billing Department and HR may also be involved. Their techniques can be your techniques. It will build your relationship with attorneys, and save you money. 

Let’s talk about delegationcalendaring, teamwork, organization tips, document and file management. 

The most important tasks for Quality Control are:

DELEGATION

Delegating and assigning tasks to the person best suited to the work at a rate less than your own is the dream. E.g. in a law firm, a paralegal whose time is billed at a rate higher than they are paid. You can do this too. 

If you’re in solo practice, farm out any work you can, and fill the time with cases at your higher billing rate.

For example, the Expert Witness should consider the cost of a bookkeeper vs. the cost of doing their own billing and business books. Do it yourself? Factor in your learning curve. Quickbooks, for example, will take many, many hours to learn and many more to troubleshoot.

Similarly, if you hire staff, consider someone with legal background. They are more expensive than a receptionist, but will interact with an attorney caller in a manner that improves how many cases you get. A “call back” message is different if the message includes a case citation, description of the case, who the attorney represents, and how they found you. 

(Tip: use carbon message pads. Those little pieces of paper get lost!)

KEEP ON TOP OF CALENDARING

Tracking and calendaring is crucial in a law firm and the Expert is no different.

Experts should do this at the start of their work. Lawsuits come with deadlines that can have grave consequences if missed. Tip: find out who handles calendaring at the attorney’s office, and ask them for help.

Important Dates and Tips

  • Expert Disclosure
  • Discovery and Depositions, opening and closing deadlines. Deadline by which your opinion must be produced (factor in time for the attorney to read your report and confer with you.) Your report can drive a demand to depose you.[1] Every State has different rules, pretrial and settlement conferences and, of course, trial itself.
  • Timeline if a Motion to Compel an IME becomes necessary.
  • Ticklers. A “tickler” is simply a reminder. I calendar a conference. I create a tickler for a week in advance to set up a Zoom meeting, send a reminder to the client and prepare. Both go on the calendar, but in case management they have different meaning.
  • Follow-through and follow-up is handled with a tickler by most attorneys.  An estate planner, for example, must fund a Revocable Trust with real estate. Thus Deeds are sent to a Country Recorder and are notoriously lost, delayed or never returned. The Tickler is on the calendar 6 weeks after sending the Deed: “Did the deed come back.” It ensures nothing falls between the cracks. An Expert Witness has cracks too. For example, (a) your retention contract was never fully signed and returned to you; or (b) Months ago the attorney promised medical records and they were never forthcoming. Tickle it to avoid scrambling before writing a report.
  • Follow-up. Make a ticker to call an attorney after a hearing, if it’s impactful to the case and you, just to touch base about the results and show you’re paying attention. Imagine a Motion about the deposition of opposing counsel’s expert consultant, in your field of medicine. Find out the result–usually late Friday afternoon. You need to know what happened, and it’s a goodwill-building moment. 
  • Email.  Follow-up by email documents your calls (and by extension, billed time.) However, not all information can, or should, be shared by you. Your annoyed exasperation that the examinee was a no-show doesn’t belong in communication with an attorney. Email is discoverable, so wording is a consideration.
  • Document management of records for a bevy of experts, and a thoughtful filing system.  On the face of it, systems are designed to automate. In law, however, the human factor is so essential that trained staff are paid well and always in demand. Whoever does it: systems are (1) a method to anticipate and avoid trouble, and (2) to keep things moving smoothly.

How you practice is not how you render an opinion.  To be clear, in no way is case management the same as “management” of the expert’s professional knowledge and rendering of opinion. This article is about the administrative aspect of workflow to keep everyone on track as deadlines loom and events evolve.

Teamwork

The larger the lawsuit–in financial claim, or numbers of parties–the more important to have a support team with sophisticated skills.  This frees up the biggest ticket items so they are billable by the attorneys.

In your case, your time is your bread and butter too. Therefore, just like attorneys, the less you have to work at keeping track of all the paper and deadlines, the more time you have to bill for your expert skills.  If you don’t have the staff, a good case-management protocol goes a long way to making your life easier and clients confident in your capabilities.

Document Management is brutal. Here are tips from the attorney casebook.

These are tips and not intended to be comprehensive or applicable to everyone.

  1. When records come in, are they electronic or physical?  If physical then ask for an index or make your own. If digital, create computer directories that identify each document.  Back it up regularly. 
  2. Organize the documents so you can easily find them when you write your report, or for reference on the stand. Lawyers love Bates Stamps–a stamp that applies a different number to each successive page. There’s no rhyme or reason–Bates page #35 could be part of the document at Bates #00200.  I don’t like Bates stamps for this reason, but it does make it easier to track if paper is missing. Adobe Acrobat can Bates Stamp a .pdf file. Instead, my solution is to use a footer in each file that identifies the number of pages and the computer file name. It makes timekeeping easier too, because you can see when you reviewed a 20 page document and when you reviewed a 300 page document.
  3. Consider keeping a “chron” file of copies of letters you send out.  Standard Operating Procedure for attorneys, a chronological file includes a copy of everything that goes out the door, in chronological order obviously. You can find letters, emails and reports without having to remember the client or file. E.g. you wrote someone last April about a cool piece of case law. You can’t recall to whom or the context. But you have the April Chron file. You sent a letter 2 months ago with some great language for boilerplate? Chron file comes to the rescue.

The list goes on.  A case management protocol can include many more features than described here. Files and filing, timekeeping and what should be on an invoice, digital calendars vs. paper calendars. Streamlining systems is one reason “business consulting” is a feature of my own consulting practice. It speaks to the bottom line which, ultimately, means profit. 

 

This site is peppered with case management guides and ideas, check out https://www.forensicexpertpro.com/practical-articles/

[1] “Papering to death” is a legal strategy. The goal is to drive up opposing counsel’s costs such that settlement looks like a better return on investment. Therefore, Attorneys sometimes manipulate the timeline for discovery by producing your report at the last possible minute, forcing opposing counsel to request an extension of the discovery period in order to depose you. If you’re a pawn in this process, the conversation of calendaring is a good opening to learn more and ensure your end of things is to a high ethical and best-practices standard. 

Case management and workflow in forensic expert work
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