Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant

Email or Call (415) 302-9589

Is Google God?

By Beryl Vaughan

Google is now officially a verb. Per the Oxford English Dictionary, to Google is to:

“Search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google.

“On Sunday she googled an ex-boyfriend.

“I googled for a cheap hotel/flight deal.”

It’s hard to find the right forensic psychiatrist or psychologist for a case where the psychological issues are confusing to the attorney. The searcher is likely an attorney or law firm staff who are, essentially, laypeople.

A layperson is looking for you. What will they find?

A common scenario is a person low on the law firm’s totem pole (or an overworked solo practitioner.) They could be staff, a paralegal or legal secretary, attorney Summer Intern or lead trial attorney. Make no assumptions. Let’s look at this search from their perspective. They are tasked with making a short list of appropriate Experts. 

Often the person looking for someone like you has the least experience retaining an expert witness. They may not be familiar with the distinction between a physician or a psychologist, a psychologist vs. a neuropsychologist, an LCSW and an ABPP Board-Certified Forensic Psychologist. They may even search for someone whose credentials are irrelevant to the case.

Google Searching, the Lawyer-Way

Attorneys have an interesting approach to finding experts: Cast a huge net, in the dark, and hope for the best. They Google words that are both specific and vague. They spend otherwise billable time crawling the web and it can be annoying.

Quite often the attorney makes a diagnosis. “Car accident PTSD;” “Depression caused by a divorce;” “amnesia expert witness'” “proving an insanity defense evaluation.”

Let’s take a closer look. We know PTSD is rare. Assessing “Insanity” is more nuanced than attorneys may appreciate. Depression is more common, especially after a loss like a divorce, but causation is not a given. Amnesia is complex–a neurologist, neuropsychologist or psychiatrist might all have relevant expertise. Google doesn’t parse the finer points.

Forgive me for anthropomorphizing Google but it does seem to have its own intelligence, (albeit Artificial.) It plays favorites, and sends the wallflowers out of the room.

Deities and Smart Things

Does power make Google a God? No. But if you aren’t getting work because attorneys can’t find you on Google, then prayer might help. I don’t suggest you stop there.

We have to crack the code or there is no marketing strategy for you online. (Check out 2021 Guide to Online Marketing).

What’s an algorithm? 

The Google “brain” is called an algorithm. It is a complicated application of software that filters billions of bits of information to determine what the searcher “really” wants to know and where the “true” answers lie.

Your practice must play well with the Algorithm or, like the wallflower, end up on page 102.

Results follow a pattern.

At the top of page 1 is paid advertising (Google Adwords.)

Scholarly articles and information then follows as Google very appropriately gives greater credence to serious information over what it has defined as “fluff.”

Listings in expert directories may follow because they have a large budget for such things.

Soon you will see sites of experts whose experience may or may not even be on point. 

The attorney now picks up the phone to call that Nurse Practitioner who claims expertise in summarizing neurologist records. (Ahem).

As an exercise, let’s do a hypothetical Google search.

Case: An elderly person, who might have dementia, recently signed a will under suspicious circumstances.  No neuropsych testing has been conducted on the elderly person nor is there a diagnosis of dementia. The paralegal, in this hypothetical, doesn’t know they might need a neuropsychologist to address the person’s cognitive (in)efficiencies. Neuropsychology is a term not widely understood in legal practice. The paralegal grasps for what seems likely “Alzheimer’s legal expert.” Here’s what I found: Google results 1st page is indeed scholarly articles, and paid positioning with Google and expert directories. Five listings follow, from psychiatrists and Nurse Practitioner records summarizers without expertise in neuropsych testing, but who like to talk about it. Page 2 is more scholarly articles and a Powerpoint presentation about curriculum in a Psychology undergrad program. I gave up at page 5. The attorney isn’t looking in the right place but has no way of knowing that. [Note, a psychiatrist or psychologist who knows about dementia and undue influence in the elderly might have something very different to provide.]

What you can do to change the search outcome and bring it to your door.

Your website is usually the last stop for an attorney before calling you. It can be the only stop, which is the most cost-effective for everyone. Using our example, this is your chance to post an article on the subject. You can discuss scientific methodology (and Daubert, et al.) You can explain cognitive (in)efficiency. Other options include adding articles on directories and LinkedIn (no other Social Media is recommended but that is a conversation for another time).  Attorneys must understand you’re speaking directly to them. This has two effects: 1. the attorney/staff person will now use the right words, and 2. you will now be that desired expert because you just explained it to them directly and expertly.

Now that things are clearer, I ran another Google search as if I was the attorney you have just (hypothetically) educated. Because the attorney better understands your work, “I” can now use a more precise and accurate description.  The results are still not perfect from the seeker’s point of view, but better than it was from your point of view. The search words are “Dementia psychological competency.” Scholarly articles, etc. but on page 3 is a person who is a qualified forensic neuropsychologist expert in assessments of the elderly. “Thank you, Google God,” says the seeker from the law firm. There is now someone, anyone at all, to call.

Companion article: Breakable Rules.

[Ed.: There’s a perception, that isn’t without foundation, that an expert witness lives in an ivory tower populated by colleagues in their specialized fields. They speak to one another in a language mysterious to attorneys. They may be a tad arrogant.  Some attorneys, reasonably, approach finding experts with some trepidation.]

What people are telling my clients:

“Your website developer helped you with SEO? When I googled “Forensic Psychiatry Consulting Texas” your website came up 3rd on the first page, which is quite good.”   – A.G. (name withheld to maintain confidentiality)

Ed. Note: The expert’s site had been active only 3 months, breaking the 2-year rule for appearing early in Google results.  I attribute this to our “multiple fronts” strategy which, in my experience, boosts everything, including more forensic work. No guarantees, but third-party feedback is the most useful. -b

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