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Initial Expert Witness Interview: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

August 9, 2023

In our last blog, you passed the conflicts checks and gathered the information you need. The attorney may or may not decide to hire you based on their evaluation of the interview, the other experts they are considering, and the trajectory of the case (cases may settle at any time, and it is not unusual for attorneys to begin vetting experts months before they need work to begin – it is also not unusual for attorneys to evaluate experts at the last possible minute).

However, this is a two-way street. You also have to decide if this fits within your wheelhouse. As expert Kevin Quinley notes:

[Remember] the power of the word  ‘no.’ We want to be people pleasers. We want the new assignment. We want the case assignment. We want to get traction on our practices, but accepting assignments with incredibly short-fused deadlines can degrade the quality of the work product. If the subject matter is beyond or at the periphery of our knowledge expertise it is tempting to say yes when you ought to say no.

Robert Handfield performs a similar evaluation:

An essential part of the question is how I can help in this case. What would you want me to testify on? If it is outside what I know or feels comfortable, then you know it is not a good fit. Many people approach me as an educator and say, ‘We want you to help educate the jury.’ That is my sweet spot. I love to teach and educate. I am good at it, and I have written several textbooks. I know how to explain things in a simple, direct way. So, if it makes people aware, what do you want me to do? Is it to educate the jury? Is it to frame this issue? Please describe what you would like me to testify to in my report.

Jon Albert, an expert on celebrity contracts, notes:

I look to know the basics of the case. What happened? Why did it happen? Then I can think ‘Hey, wait a minute. You are in the wrong here. Maybe we do not want to use you.’ That is one thing. Another thing I might ask him is, ‘What are you looking for?’ [If] they have some relatively unknown talent and they want to get $50 million. ‘Wait a minute. I do not think I can do that for you.’

Perhaps Professor John Abraham puts it best, when he notes that this decision doesn’t just impact this case:

The first thing to know is I only take cases that I feel strongly about. I do recommend that experts are judicious as they decide which cases to take. You do not want to take on a case that is going to cause you to lose credibility, because it is going to impact your career later. Experts have to do a service to society. We have a role to help the court make the right decision and so there is an ethical obligation that experts have. Once I sign up for a case it means that I am committed to the facts of the case. I am not going to testify in a case where I think we are not in the right. I take cases I feel confident in, I like to win because I feel that if the facts do not prevail, it is an injustice. I do like to win. I do not pay too much attention to the win-loss record, but I do like to win because when I am in a case. I am convinced that my side has the facts on their side.

You won’t have all the facts just from the initial interview, and case evaluation is usually part of your engagement. If, after reviewing all of the facts of the matter, you have bad news to tell the client, that is o.k. As attorney H. Bernard Tisdale notes:

I try to hire the best experts who are going to tell me if my theory holds water. If it doesn’t hold water, guess what? I am going to pay that expert and classify them as non-testifying. The other side is not getting it unless they have developed some type of information that cannot be duplicated.

Lastly, even if it is in your wheelhouse, if you can’t meet the timetable or you think you may not mesh well with the attorneys, you can turn down the engagement for those reasons as well. It is best for everyone if all parties are excited about the project.

If you are interested in being considered for expert witness gigs, sign up with Round Table Group. For nearly 30 years, we have helped litigators locate, evaluate, and employ the best and most qualified expert witnesses, starting with those we already know. Contact us at 202-908-4500 for more information or sign up as an expert.

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