Expert Witnessing - A Unique Practice

By Rosalie Hamilton

Being an expert consultant/expert witness is a unique practice. If I’ve said that once, I’ve said it a thousand times, but, doubtless, I’ll say it another thousand times.

Your practice has similarities to other professional services, such as perhaps even your own “day job” if you provide services to private individuals, businesses, or industry. But, despite seeming obvious, the most critical difference in an expert consulting/testifying practice and a non-legal practice or business is that your clients and prospective clients are attorneys.

In case you haven’t realized it yet, the characteristics of this unique target market impact your practice tremendously. For instance, what you say (and write) can and will be used against you. Once you offer your services to the legal community your life is an open book (no expectation of privacy) and this includes prior acts as well.

“OK,” you say, “I’ve got the idea. What does this mean in terms of function?”

What it means for one thing is that you need to adopt a conservative tone in your advertising. Unlike product and some services advertising, you can’t promise results, such as helping one side win. You can edge over from features — credentials, availability, accommodations, etc., to benefits such as retaining counsel and then the triers of fact (judge and usually jury) benefiting from the effectiveness of your communication skills, but that is about as far as you can go.

The difference in your promotional strategy and tactics can be subtle. I urge my clients to write articles for us to put on their website, get published in their trade publication or a legal journal, or for us to distribute as a news release. But, and it is a big but, we carefully edit and bulletproof such writing.

Although some experts blog, some quite successfully because the proliferation of a blog is viral, expert witnesses who blog should do so with caution.

You may be thinking, “But some attorneys blog, and it is working great for them in getting their name and practice known.” That’s true. However, the broken record again: attorneys usually don’t testify, so their writing likely won’t be brought up in court.

“Law firm marketing” — the marketing OF a law practice, is not the same as “legal marketing” — the marketing of expert witness services TO law firms because of who the clients and prospective clients are.

This reminds me to mention why I seldom refer you to read other consultants’ advice. There are many capable and wise marketing gurus, and Meredith and I read as much of what they write as we possibly can, to improve our work for our clients and to pass on nuggets of advice to you, our readers. But, because you as expert witnesses drive under the yellow caution light, I hesitate to recommend much outside advice to you lest you take it “as is” without noticing the sometimes subtle differences in how you should apply the advice to your legal (read conservative) practice.

When discussing a point on the website I was creating for him, I once got a laugh out of an engineer by saying, “Gary, it’s my job to make your information even more boring than it already is.” You can tell by the testimonials on our website that the results of my approach to marketing my expert witness clients have been far from boring. But you get the idea.

Regarding billing and collection procedures, you know you must accept that attorneys can be “a different breed of cat” as clients and consequently you must institute firm policies to ensure payment. I’ve had clients say to me, “Rosalie, even though you get a retainer for a marketing or coaching project, you don’t require me to sign a contract, despite consistently pushing us to get a signed contract from our clients to cover any work not paid for in advance with a retainer.”

Thanks for making my point for me again — my clients are not attorneys! They are expert witnesses, who rarely ever become a collection challenge.

If I’ve belabored this issue, please excuse me. Until the day I no longer see such things on a website as “I can help your side win” or in an advertisement “Work primarily for defense,” or until I no longer hear expert witnesses say, “I never thought they wouldn’t pay me; I did the work for them!” — until that day I will continue reminding you that you work in a unique business — the legal consulting business — and the strategies and tactics of your practice should be appropriately unique as well.

Rosalie Hamilton

Rosalie Hamilton

Rosalie Hamilton, Founder and President of Expert Communications, creates customized marketing plans for expert witnesses. Formerly the Expert Witness Marketing Coordinator for Texas Lawyer (newspaper) and its parent company, American Lawyer Media, she has over twenty years of experience in sales, marketing, publishing and training, and has given numerous presentations on the marketing style appropriate for the legal field. She is the author of “The Expert Witness Marketing Book” and writes articles for numerous expert witness newsletters and professional organization publications.

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