Who knew project management would be such a big part of an expert witness engagements? Expert witness work is a start-and-stop process. The engagement could end at any time, have quick due dates, or the entire assignment could go on a multi-month or even multi-year break. With such uncertainty, organization is key.
First, you need to prioritize what information you need from the attorneys to set up your project. Expert Professor David Rockstraw knows what he wants first:
When you start a new case, I want two items from the attorney immediately. I want a copy of the complaint to understand the legal basis for the lawsuit. I also want the court scheduling order to know when reports are due, when depositions must be done and when the trial is supposed to start, so I can add those things to my calendar. I have only been doing this as my primary form of employment for two years, so I am still figuring things out. Not all cases work at full speed all the time. Fortunately, with all the cases I am juggling, when one case needs my time, the other seems to hibernate for a while. I still hope they do not all start hitting me simultaneously, but when they do, I get up early, work late, and give up riding my bike.
Once you have that information, you need to synthesize it with your other work and get it into your systems. Robert Sherwood has a seamless calendaring system that works for him:
To me, there are two parts to [setting up a matter]. First is organizing it on your calendar. For example, the calendar might have the report date, the draft report date, and any important dates you must produce something. I use a method that Intel used in Silicon Valley: the red, yellow, and green methods. So, if the report is due February 4th, I will put it on my calendar in red, which means it is due on the 4th. A date in yellow needs research. If discovery is needed, I will put it in green. Now, I have three colors when I look at my calendar. Red means I must meet those dates and cannot delay. Green dates are those that I want to meet, but I could probably miss them and not be in trouble. Those in yellow are discovery dates.
Kevin Quinley, who is often working on multiple cases at once, is a proponent of taking a step back weekly and taking a holistic approach:
Whether it is metallurgy, medicine or insurance claims, I have found personally much of this job is project management, especially when you get several cases and hope to reach a stage where you have many cases with different deadlines. You have many priorities, whether it is the trial dates, the deposition dates, or whether they are milestone dates for a Rule 26, report, or disclosure. You are juggling a lot, and I think they need to at least weekly have a discipline of taking a broad-spectrum view of all of your commitments, deadlines, and sort of rearranging the chess pieces on the board or the pieces of the Jenga puzzle to triage and prioritize. Mapping out and planning your workweek, month, year. Make sure that you have captured all significant dates.
Lastly, make sure your system works with who you are. Expert Daniel Spulber knows to plan one thing at a time:
I have a hard time multitasking. […] If I am writing something, I tend to be very focused on that thing. When writing a consulting report, preparing for a deposition, or preparing for testimony, I find it essential to work on that in depth. Don’t try to do ten or even five things in one day. I try to do one thing at a time. Take a few days and focus on that thing rather than jumping around. It is the same for academics, which helps me stay focused on one thing. My son is a great multi-tasker. He can do five or six things simultaneously, and I admire that. But for me, I am limited in bandwidth. So, I tend to focus on one thing.
Everyone is busy, and keeping your work set up right will help you maintain equanimity as the inevitable abrupt schedule changes occur. While very few people put project management up at the top of what they want to do next, it is essential for a well-run expert witness practice.
If you are interested in being considered for expert witness gigs, consider signing up with Round Table Group. For nearly 30 years, we have helped litigators locate, evaluate, and employ the best and most qualified expert witnesses. Contact us at 202-804-8121 for more information or sign up as an expert.