Practice Development for Medical Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or Call (415) 302-9589
Is Google God?
By Beryl Vaughan
To “Google” is now officially a verb. Per the Oxford English Dictionary:
“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.”
Google yourself. Put in your name and/or area of expertise. Try it with med-legal terms like “[your area of expertise] expert witness” or “Med-legal [your area of expertise] and, of course, your name. Take note of the results. This is what an attorney will find.
It’s hard to find the right medical specialist for a case where the medical issues are confusing to the attorney.
The searcher is likely an attorney (solo practice,) or law firm (bigger practice) staff who are laypeople. A staff person may have even less experience than the attorney with nuanced medical or psychological issues in a case.
A layperson is looking for you. What will they find?
A common scenario is a person low on the law firm’s totem pole is asked to find an expert witness in the field speculated to be accurate. (The searcher might also be an overworked solo practitioner.)
In larger law firms, the person might not be an attorney: a paralegal or legal secretary, or law student Summer Intern.
More likely they are a junior attorney who usually gets the bulk of the gruntwork in litigation.
Make no assumptions.
Let’s look at this search from their perspective. They are tasked with making a short list of appropriate Experts.
They may not be familiar with the distinction between a physician or a psychologist, an orthopedist or an orthopedic surgeon, a Physiatrist or a Physical Therapist. 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;” or “bone cancer orthopedist malpractice.”
Let’s take a closer look at the “guessed diagnosis” scenario.
Car accident PTSD. PTSD is a common search term because it has become a buzzword. We know PTSD is rare and the symptoms can reflect a range of Anxiety Disorders. In fact, PTSD is not longer an Anxiety Disorder per the DSM5.
Depression caused by a divorce. Depression is a natural response many difficult or overwhelming life events. Causation in a divorce is unlikely to be relevant. Divorce is not litigation in the sense that no one is suing someone for causing them pain and suffering. In this case, I speculate the searcher is not an attorney but a person in the middle of the divorce. That person is not your target client. Writing or promoting language for this type of search may not produce medical-legal case calls, though treaters could hear from potential patients.
Bone cancer orthopedist malpractice. Did a patient die because bone cancer wasn’t “caught” in time? You and I know the question might be best evaluated by an oncologist or even a radiologist, to assess such a question. The attorney needs to be educated about the question if they are to find the right expert witness.
Deities and Smart Things
The online search results can skew what an attorney thinks is relevant. Google has failed the searcher through no fault of its own. Forgive me for anthropomorphizing Google but it does seem to have its own intelligence, (albeit Artificial.)
Google plays favorites, and sends the wallflowers out of the room.
We have to crack the code or there is no marketing strategy for you online. (Companion article 2023 Guide to Directories and Referral Services: One Online Marketing Strategy).
What’s an algorithm?
The Google “brain” “process” is called an algorithm. It is a complicated application of software that filters billions of bits of information through a logic-structure 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.
Conduct any Google search and you will likely see:
- At the top of page 1 is paid advertising (Google Adwords.)
- Soon, scholarly articles and information follow as Google, appropriately, gives greater credence to serious information over what it has defined as “fluff.”
- Listings in expert directories may appear early because they have a large budget for SEO which they apply to aggressive strategies.
- At some point you will see sites of experts, but their experience may or may not be on point.
- The attorney now picks up the phone to call that Nurse Practitioner who claims expertise in summarizing neurologist records because s/he popped up early in the “real people” results. Is the person the right choice? Perhaps, but if not, the attorney is not really informed about what they should be seeking. This is your job. Google results reflect quality answers to common questions in the niche of the search term. Provide those answers and attorneys will find you and pick up the phone.
Remember my motto? Education is a marketing strategy.
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.
Here’s an example: a person’s testamentary capacity is at issue. Was their judgment impaired?
This is your chance to post an article on your website on the subject. You can discuss scientific methodology (and Daubert, et al.) You can explain cognitive (in)efficiency. Describe Dementia (a term the attorney may have used.)
Repost that article on other digital platforms like LinkedIn or attorney-specific directories that allow articles.
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 to the attorney, having read your article, I ran another Google search on the assumption your article taught me what to look for. I 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. E.g., the search words are now “Dementia psychological competency.” First are the Ads, scholarly articles and big budget expert witness services. But on page 3 is a person who is a qualified forensic neuropsychologist expert in assessments of the elderly, and others in the field including you.
“Thank you, Google God,” says the seeker from the law firm. There is now someone, anyone at all, they can call.
[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: In that example, 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. -Beryl Vaughan
“We’re at maybe 1% of what is possible…we’re still moving slow relative to the opportunities we have. I think a lot of that is because of the negativity… Every story I read is Google versus someone else. That’s boring. We should be focusing on building the things that don’t exist.”
Larry Page, Google Founder