Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant

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Building a Reputation for Fair-Dealing, Integrity and Goodwill

By Beryl Vaughan

Building a Reputation for fairness and integrity will drive a lifelong career as an Expert Witness.

Building client goodwill and a “satisfied customer” is different for a forensic expert witness than other businesses.

“Satisfied” refers to the entire client-expert relationship, except the expert’s opinion. An expert witness’ opinion will not, and should not, be geared to “satisfy ” customers. There can be no implication the opinion is not objective but instead issued as a convenience to the client. That impression is a practice-killer. This article is about what isn’t the expert’s opinion.

Let’s approach “customer service” as a guiding principle manifested in the day to day business needs of the attorney-client, laid out in “Nuts and Bolts.”

Goodwill can be established with anyone. Failing to establish Goodwill can be a downfall for anyone.

Goodwill is the mutual respect and sound personal relationship between business and client.  It is an intangible asset. Generating goodwill builds your reputation and your business’ integrity.

Without goodwill of some kind, you’re just a one-hit wonder.  Establishing goodwill, however, is key to referrals for future work.

Supporting the Law Practice Without Introducing Bias

During 20 years in litigation support, I was lucky to work with great attorneys who mentored me about what’s important in an unfolding case. At one time or another, I touched almost every task in litigation case management from international licensing conflicts to billing. I built personal relationships with clients that I treasure to this day, and that were a significant factor in generating client loyalty–another way of saying: a motivated relationship.  I also found that “litigation support” from outside the firm wasn’t always supportive, whether it was an expert witness, depo-summarizers, records management, even copy services When the attorney’s office has to do someone else’s job for them, it’s inefficient and costly. It’s not a recipe for return business.  (Continues below).





Professional Relationships That Communicate Respect (vs. being a Pompous…)

Social Intelligence is, paraphrased, “the ability to understand and manage people to act wisely in human relations” (Edward Thorndike [1].

What your business communicates to clients.  Who is the go-to person–on the front lines with your clients? You? Staff? An answering service or Voicemail? These things matter. They convey your practice persona: Available? Behind a gatekeeper? Responsive vs. slow to respond? Likeable?[2] Helpful?

Consider negative implications when you don’t answer the phone, don’t respond to email, ignore second and third calls from an attorney, get someone’s name wrong or forget it more than once:

You don’t care enough to take your work –and their case–seriously (aka arrogance). 

You can’t be bothered to learn someone’s name.

You don’t understand case evolution and the march to trial which, as an Expert Witness, you should (I can help with more training on that score.)

Relationships.  Know the go-to people on your attorney-client’s case team.  

Take it upon yourself to know the team by name, personality and role.  It’s an opportunity to communicate your respect by remembering how they pronounce their name, what’s important to them, and the nature of their job.  

Paralegals and junior associates don’t get nearly enough acknowledgment, yet they are the people most likely to mention your name in a future case.

Trust becomes mutual, which motivates cooperation, which creates goodwill. 

The Right Person for the job.  When you know a person’s role, you’ll save yourself time and trouble. A paralegal might be the fastest source for records you are missing. An Associate Attorney might be scheduling discovery–you need that person’s name to schedule your own document production or deposition.  The lead Trial Attorney who retained you isn’t always in the trenches in the same way. As an Expert Witness, you actually live in the trenches–with the meat of a case and a lot of moving parts to review.  

When you aren’t the go-to person on behalf of your practice, make sure you hire knowledgeable, personable staff. Assume clients will have as much, or more, contact with that person than you.  Frankly, your clients know the services of staff are free.  At $200-$1200/hour, there is no situation where it makes more sense to ask the Expert to send a copy of a report if they have a receptionist or assistant to ask.  Attorneys know that!  It’s how they run their own practice. As a paralegal, my billable rate was less than the attorney’s.  No surprise that clients preferred to turn to me first, letting me decide when to bump something up the food chain.

New Cases, Same People

Personal Connection.  People who have a personal connection with someone do a better job recalling them later. Similarly, a negative relationship can suppress their likelihood of remembering you later. [3] When someone remembers you positively, it is a cornerstone of building goodwill in the long term. 

Helpfulness, Social Intelligence, and Flexibility

The concept of being “helpful” requires emotional flexibility as well as the skillful handling of tasks. “Helpfulness” is a business asset. Let’s take it up to the level of empathy.

Example: As a paralegal for 20 years, my primary love was probate/trust administration.  I was the person clients turned to for help when the bureaucracy of death overwhelmed them. Helping people in the immediate aftermath of grief is intimate. We’re in this human business together.

Business does, and should have an emotional component.

It’s simple, have a good relationship and life is simpler and easier. Have a contrary relationship and you waste time dealing with it, emotionally and professionally. In business, getting this right has a profound impact.

Being “infected” by another person’s kindness and attitude can be a very good thing.

“Researchers have found that when subjects “catch” positive emotions from others, they’re more likely to be viewed by others and view themselves as more cooperative and competent.”  –Sherry Bourg Carter, Psy.D.  “Emotions are Contagious – Choose Your Company Wisely,” Psychology Today.

Empathy in any form drives a desire to help, and a generosity of time and effort. It rarely goes unnoticed. In forensic psychiatry, law, or any profession, this lesson will never fail you.

To state the obvious, someone without Social Intelligence may not be likable.  If you don’t like an employee, probably neither will your client. No one fosters a relationship with someone they don’t like. If your clients build with your staff a mutual respect, it will integrate with the client’s business relationship with you.

[1]  Thorndike, E.L. (1920). Intelligence and its use. Harper’s Magazine, 140, 227-235.

[2]  The more your staff knows about law and your area of medicine, the more useful they will be to everyone.  Your human resources add value to your practice, nearer the “rainmaker” category vs. “overhead.”  Select, hire and treat them accordingly.

[2]  Levy BJ, Anderson MC. Inhibitory processes and the control of memory retrieval. Trends Cogn Sci. 2002;6(7):299-305. doi:10.1016/s1364-6613(02)01923-x 


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