Round Table Group strongly suggests that experts should always accept a pre-engagement call of some sort (phone call, video conference, etc.) with attorneys, and that you shouldn’t charge them for this meeting.
The client is feeling you out to see if they believe you are a better fit for the matter than other candidates they may be considering. If you are not famous, this is an opportunity for you to detail relevant parts of your background and explain the kinds of value you believe you can bring to them and their case. To some extent, you want them to choose wisely… If you’re the right expert for them, you want them to know it. If you’re not, it’s better to figure that out right away, too!
You also need to protect yourself. The role the attorney envisions might not quite line up with your expertise, or they may want you to opine on additional areas that you are not comfortable with. During the interview, you may also discover a conflict that wasn’t obvious from a simple list of the parties. This is also your opportunity to find out what the attorney and their team are like.
If you are so established in your field that everyone knows you, the attorneys may need less ‘face time’ to make up their mind about you, but it still behooves you to learn about the prospective client and their case. Participating in a pre-engagement interview is in your best interest.
Expert Dr. Jolie Brams reiterates many of these reasons it is useful not to charge, and adds a few of her own:
First of all, anybody who believes that you are giving it all away in a first interview does not have to do a case. You cannot give everything away. You can be a colleague and even if you are not hired, you can give people advice such as, ‘I believe you need this type of expert and not me.’ Or, ‘Have you read this book or considered this diagnosis?’ […] I will always do that because we are all colleagues. Not everything here is just to get a case, but it would be foolish to state that I can tell somebody how to win a case without knowing what the matter is. Now I will give people advice. I can give you one example. I have an attorney who contacted me recently […] and he does not know where to go with the civil case. It is a case of a young child who allegedly was abused in a preschool setting. The issue for him is that he does not understand the developmental issues and how much a four-year-old can be damaged. Where do we get records for that child? Do we know what that family is? We look at the discovery. How can he consider this case as a whole?
Am I giving away things? No, I am speaking to a colleague. If you hire me, these are the things we are going to need. He asked me why do I need the child’s pediatric records? I am not worried if the child had a cold. What I want to see is if the parents were attentive, were they malingering, did they exaggerate, did this child have behavioral problems prior to this incident happening, how was the medical care?
Sometimes people see things simplistically, but that first phone call is key. In that phone call, I get a sense of what that attorney’s motivations are, what they would be like to work with, and whether we can work together. […] I would like to think I can work with most people, but it is important to understand that their questions make sense. There are attorneys that call with questions that cannot mix in a legal sense. They want an answer which is not adherent to what psychologists can do for them. So yes, those initial conversations save a great deal of pain and a great deal of time. It is important that I can come back to you and say this person needs X, Y or Z and not me. Here are some of the issues.
I do a lot of high-level work and I must understand the parameters of every case. I do not bill for that initial contact. I consider that to be a professional investment in many ways. It is a professional investment because even if that case does not work out for that person because of my friendliness, attitude, and my interest in what they are doing. It might be two years later, but I will get a callback. Or I will get a call back from one of their colleagues. It is guaranteed they will never forget that this was a brief phone call.
I also do it for self-protection. I want to know what is going on with this case. I want to know who the funding sources are. I want to know the cooperation of the attorney. I want to make certain things clear.
However, there are opposing views on this. Some experts, for instance, are in very niche and currently in-demand fields and find the time on these calls, which don’t always lead to engagements, more problematic. Richard Sanders, a cryptocurrency expert, notes:
This advice might not apply to most experts, but the ones that are in a real niche: do not do pre-engagement phone calls. They are not worth it. That sounds so counterintuitive, but we have more people that are able and willing to hire us. It must be 2-3 emails back and forth then getting on. It is never just a quick call. There is no such thing, at least in my experience as a 5 minute or a 15-minute call, and it is rarely oh, I will make an exception for this. Then there is another call and just it is this constant sunk cost fallacy. So have some firm boundaries and do not make exceptions.
Other experts believe that clients are trying to get some free case evaluation and are not serious about engaging them. While this may happen sometimes, Round Table Group still feels that the value experts receive during these calls is important and, as long as experts are careful to note that they cannot give opinions without evaluating all the facts of the matter which is impossible to do over a short phone call and toe the line there, the harm is comparatively negligible to the insights gained from taking the call.
However, you set up your pre-engagement meeting, make sure all expectations are set prior to the call. No one likes after-the-fact surprises!
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 202-908-4500 for more information or sign up now!