Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant

Email or Call (415) 302-9589

Speaking “Lawyer”

By Beryl Vaughan

Ultimately, it will be your job to act as a Rosetta Stone for a Jury, so they can understand what your training has helped you understand. We use the same technique to reach attorneys.
Connecting with attorneys is more effective when your skill and expertise is communicated in a manner suited to the lawyer and her or his case…even if it doesn’t have the familiar cadence medicine.
Let’s play this out.

Like everyone, attorneys begin most searches with Google. They don’t use medical terminology. Sometimes they put on their armchair psychologist cap and misuse terms based on what they think they know. This doesn’t always work out for them.
Reframing your practice can be impactful to getting case calls.

The Art of Translation.

An example:

You are experienced in out-patient treatment of Anxiety Disorders. A personal injury attorney is seeking an expert in PTSD because their client is nervous all the time following a horrific accident. The attorney doesn’t know much about PTSD so, of course, Googles “PTSD accident” and doesn’t find “Out-patient treatment Anxiety Disorders.” They might miss you entirely.

In a situation like this, the data unmasks the disconnect.  What does the Google search produce, and why are some results popping up. Good fixes include writing about how to distinguish PTSD from other Disorders, PTSD from traumatic events, like motor vehicle accidents, subtleties and variations of Anxiety Disorders. More than one venue will host your article, but you have the most control on your website.

A relieved attorney now finds someone who understands what’s relevant, in spite of the attorney’s understandable lack of mental health training.

A misunderstanding between expert witness and attorney takes time to straighten out. For example, your expert report assumes a shared understanding of words and their med-legal implication. If the attorney isn’t getting what you are saying, neither will a jury.

Another example, “Trauma.”

In Law, “Trauma” per Black’s: “In medical jurisprudence. “A wound; any injury to the body caused by external violence.”

In Psychology, per the APA: “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”

Webster, “an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent.”

Attorneys may identify self-described “traumatic” experiences as a cause of action in a Complaint. Who’s the right expert to opine? The doctor running an emergency room? Trauma Center standard of care expert? A forensic psychiatrist or psychologist? You see the problem.

Because you’re building your forensic practice, writing about these types of translation disconnects will find an audience. Attorneys don’t want to be confused; their cases will suffer. And they may very well look for an expert using search words that don’t lead to the expertise sought.

Whenever you communicate your med-legal opinions, assume you’re talking to someone who would like to better understand the most complex elements. Don’t be patronizing–in fact, when the language gets technical, be an educator.

Talking Shop with Lawyers

A trial isn’t the only time you’ll face a language barrier. If opposing counsel is trying to block an IME of their client, a Motion to Compel might be required. The Judge will need to know more about your work and methods. It’s highly likely you’ll be asked for a Declaration in Support of the Motion to Compel. You’ll need to explain how your IME operates, if your methods meet the Daubert standard, and best-practices.  Before your Declaration is filed, your first student is your attorney-client.

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