Practice Development for Medical Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant
Nationwide

Email go@forensicexpertpro.com or Call (415) 302-9589

The Long Gameplan and The Short Gameplan

By Beryl Vaughan

Deepening your professional reputation is a short-term and long-term goal. It isn’t only a matter of ‘years in the game.’

Would you rather hire a med-legal expert who’s testified 100 times, or 3? Licensed 5 years, or 20?

You might assume more is better. It’s true, but only if someone is also better than you at doing what you do well.

You might also believe a forensic practice can’t be built any faster than the accumulation of years in the field.

Of course, experience and long-acquired expertise are golden. Certainly, that’s your long game, but it isn’t the only game in town.

Your short-term plan can start now.

If you don’t have a lot of experience, let’s start with what you already know.

Everyone has strengths, and they sometimes outweigh a lack of experience.
Attorneys faced with your colleagues/competitors need to know the differences among experts and you can teach them.

A classic example is the academic expert witness.

Don’t be limited by a lack of training at a well-known Ivy League school, a professorship, and/or a stack of publications. Credentials like these do not mean such a person has skills crucial to an Expert Witness.

Explaining Your Strengths
An IME that provides robust forensic findings.

You might be especially skilled at conducting an IME.

Perhaps you are good at drawing out information from an examinee, and interpreting complex cues, even malingering. This is the case of one of my clients and we ensure attorneys understand why this is important.

Compare this to a different scenario I have seen described in many a forensic report: the examinee finds a doctor cold, or does not trust the doctor to be impartial. The examiner who produces a thorough and insightful report can properly describe the nature and relevance of the uncooperative examinee.

The excellent report

A well-written report is sometimes a turning point in a case. Is this your strength? Even the “greenest” medicolegal expert can write a good report. Unfortunately, seasoned doctors with a great CV may have terrible writing skills. Who is the better choice for a case?

The expert who writes a thorough and readable report provides a valuable service. For example, most cases settle, and can do so on the strength of an Expert report. The report is disclosed during discovery and all parties can see how testimony is likely to play out before sitting down to the bargaining table.

Communication Skills: the Jury’s Experience

Speaking to a jury/testimony is not for everyone. You can learn, over time, to excel at testimony. If it comes naturally, attorneys will appreciate knowing a jury will respond to your testimony. Juries appreciate an Expert who is articulate but not condescending, trustworthy and believable, and confident of his or her findings.

Skills Attorneys Need But Don’t Know It.

I find attorneys may need to be informed about the Expert’s particular strengths–the nature of the strength, its importance, and role in a case.

Most attorneys don’t always understand the many roles and skills an objective expert witness/undisclosed consultant can contribute to shed light for all parties in a case.

Evening the Playing Field

What you lack in years of experience can be balanced with other strengths.

Specialty Knowledge
      • Knowledgeable about the use of specific medications and efficacy in treatment? You may be qualified to testify about malpractice in the use of that medication.
      • Example: are you an expert about dependency on alcohol (DUI cases, malpractice in prescribing, criminal responsibility,) pain medication, or opioids (personal injury, standard of care, damages related to treatment?)  How about PTSD (personal injury, employment litigation?). See what I mean? Your knowledge may tie tightly to the case and that may drive your retention.
      • Clinical physician? Opine about disorders that do or don’t respond well to singular treatments. A psychiatrist, for example, can opine about psychotherapy absent medication, or vice versa. Pain experts consider the riskiness of non-medication treatments for pain vs. “managing pain” where treatment like surgery is too dangerous.
Your Qualifications

Depth of knowledge can balance the greater years of experience of a colleague.
 

Communication Tools
  • CV. Prepare a CV that conveys that to your clients.
    Have your CV reviewed by another set of eyes, skilled with both successful and unsuccessful CVs of forensic experts in your field.Part of your gameplan is a CV that outperforms, or equally performs, that of your colleagues. Hint: take a look at the first line of your CV–is it the most important thing to know? Assume no one makes it to page 3 of your CV. What’s their takeaway?

     

    • Bios. Expert bios are required all over the internet. Attorneys don’t always have time to track down and read a CV. A few paragraphs that capture your professional qualifications and strengths are a short and sweet tool.
      Research
      Know your colleagues/competitors.
            • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of your forensic colleagues, and compare them to your own.
            • This information drives a strategy to be what others are not. People are rarely objective or accurate in their self-perception. This can be true of you, or others in your field. As an experienced “second set of eyes,” I have found this to be true and know a reality check is helpful to successful marketing.
      Be Easy to Work With
        • I feel strongly about this. Over and over, I find financial advantages to everyone, attorney-client, and expert alike. Every interaction between you and the attorney communicates how well you know your business, or don’t, and whether working with you is going to be easy or a hassle. This, by the way, extends to anyone representing you to the work: your staff, answering service, website developer, billing service. In the long game plan, you build a reputation for consistency and fairness in something as simple as how you approach collections, for example.
      Information is Power. How is Your Practice Doing?
        • Everything you do to build your practice is only as strong as your ability to determine what is working. That’s why data-mining is a marketing term (Check out the Glossary for more about “data-mining.”)
          We use data feedback to reorient how clients find you, learn, and reinforce what we find captures their attention. A well-written article on your website, for instance, helps underline your reputation for producing a well-written report
      Engage Attorneys in a Way Others Are Not: A Scenario.

      Let’s imagine attorneys find Expert “Smith” online. It appears Expert Smith has been a practicing forensic psychologist for 20 years and has testified hundreds of times.

      Expert Smith’s website and a testimonial or two praise him for thoroughness and sound reasoning.

      In the absence of anything to the contrary, attorneys assume “thoroughness” means Expert Smith can be counted on to read the records closely and find what is relevant, however well-buried.

      Also in the absence of anything to the contrary, attorneys assume Expert Smith is persuasive and at ease on the stand as a result of all that time spent there (100 times!).

      Expert Smith, they believe, is clearly at the top of his profession.

      Poor IME. In reality, his bedside manner leaves something to be desired.
      Poor Report. His report is full of awkwardly worded, contradictory statements, or simply confusing conclusions. Dates don’t line up and the word “Draft” is embedded in the final report. Look hard enough and you might find that well-founded opinion.  This goes far deeper than copy-editing.

      Testimony is not Stellar. Expert Smith speaks quietly. He is socially awkward and fails to make eye contact with the cross-examining attorney or jury. In short, he is not a great expert on the stand.

      Skill Defines the Playing Field.

      Big numbers or flashy credentials do not. Understand and master this, and you have tools to overcome what you may perceive as weaknesses standing in your way.

      What you lack in years of experience can be balanced with compensating factors.

      When we tease out those compensating factors, the next step is delivering that information to attorneys..”