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. The searcher is 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) is tasked with making a short list of appropriate Experts. 

Paralegals and Junior associate attorneys, for example. And they are the least experience retaining an expert witness. They may not be familiar with the distinction between a physician, like a psychiatrist vs. a neuropsychologist or other expert who may or may not be relevant to the case.

Quite often the staff person is making a diagnosis and searching accordingly. They are guessing. “Car accident PTSD” or “Depression caused by a divorce,” “amnesia expert witness.” PTSD is rare. Depression is more common, especially after a loss like a divorce. 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, 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. 

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 piece of software and filters billions of bits of information to determine what the searcher wants to know and where the answers lie.

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

experience after scrolling through page after page of scholarly articles, paid advertising (Google Adwords) and expert directories, followed by experts whose experience is not on point. The “searcher” is the person your first impression marketing should target. However distant they may be from a senior trial attorney, make a friendly connection in that first call and cultivate that relationship. Once they find you, they may well be a source of future work. Help them do their job. Don’t be a well-kept secret.

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.

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 across the web to make a “shortlist” shorter.

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

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 doesn’t know it, but one expert they need is a neuropsychologist to address the person’s cognitive (in)efficiencies. Neuropsychology is a term not widely understood in legal practice. The paralegal isn’t you, and grasps for what seems likely, “MD expert dementia undue influence.” 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 a psychiatrist without expertise in neuropsych testing, but who likes to talk about it. Page 2 is more scholarly articles and a Powerpoint presentation about qualifications of the forensic psychiatrist and nothing about neuropsych testing. I gave up at page 5. The attorney isn’t looking for an MD who knows the right battery of tests to address dementia, or vulnerability to undue influence. Neuropsychological testing is conducted by neuropsychologists. Cognitive capacity, not undue influence, is that expert’s purview. In this case, educating attorneys has two dividends: they find who they seek and they appreciate your willingness to explain, even if it means referring the work to someone else.  Note, a psychiatrist or psychologist who knows about dementia and undue influence in the elderly have something different to provide.

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

Remember, your website is usually the last stop for an attorney before calling you (or not.) Using our example, this is your chance to post an article on the subject. You can discuss scientific methodology (and Daubert, et al.) Explain cognitive (in)efficiency. Put articles in directories and on social media on these topics. Use your Google Plus or Facebook pages to educate attorneys about the differences between a psychiatrist and a neuropsychologist. Attorneys must understand you’re speaking directly to them. This has two effects: 1. the attorney/staff person will now use the right words to find you, 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 testing 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.

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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