Tips on Getting Hired From An Expert Witness Recruiter

By Toby Edwards
getting hired as an expertWhy do attorneys hire a particular expert instead of another who is equally skilled? It's a question I ask myself, and get asked, every day. Indeed, in some situations, I have seen experts get retained who were not quite as experienced, had higher rates, or had less prestige and gravitas. And while I am always glad to see an expert placed, I am sometimes left wondering: "Why did they hire that expert?" Well, I'll share with you some of the less obvious characteristics of successfully placed experts, based on placing hundreds of experts over 12 years of working in the expert placement space. All of them, however, play a role in making an expert desirable to an attorney.

And they all happen during the initial interview.

First Impressions mean a lot – make it count! Most experts meet their prospective clients for the first time over the phone, and must convey their communication skills, subject matter expertise, and interest in working with the attorney without the benefit of eye contact, a firm handshake, and a ready smile. I have sat on several thousand such introduction calls, and along with true subject matter expertise, four things stand out as common indicators of success.
 
Communication: Listen first, then answer, then ask if the question was answered. Make no mistake, you are on a sales call, and understanding what your client needs is of utmost importance. The smart attorney will invite the expert with an open ended question, such as “tell me about your background relevant to our issue” – and that’s your opportunity to expound on your expertise. One of the smartest things an expert can do when answering a question is be succinct and check often to see if the attorney has enough information.  One of my favorite experts to work with uses the same phrase in all of his initial interviews: “Did I answer your question (attorney’s 1st name), or is there something more I can answer for you?” It’s such a helpful and polite phrase, and it goes a long way toward a successful interview.
 
Attorneys vary in needs and personalities, but they all appreciate an expert who can listen, answer questions in a useful manner, and ask if they attorney is satisfied.
 
Know your own Background:  Be prepared to share your background verbally, and with documentation, and give them something impressive to ‘hang on’ to. Having your CV in front of you while on your call allows you to cite specific examples, dates, and places. These can become the small facts that attorneys hang on to when they leave the call or discuss it with their colleagues.
 
An expert who can provide details on a specific position or noteworthy accomplishment relevant to the matter at hand, not only impresses the client with the experience itself, but gives the client an easily remembered and shared story to associate with the expert. It’s not unusual for a client to call me and not remember the expert’s name correctly, but instead describes her by the accomplishment she noted in her interview. Give them something to remember!
 
Many initial calls end with the action item of sending your CV/resume to the attorney. Have your resume or CV and supporting background documentation up to date and readily accessible. Having these ready allows you ‘strike while the iron is hot’ – that is while the attorney still has your interview at the front of his attention. Prepare supporting documents that may be useful for the attorney to make a decision, such as references, lists of publications, previous litigation experience, presentations, and links to any publicly available statements you have made, such as blog postings or letters to the editor. You will need much of this later on to address the Rule 26 requirements anyway. 
 
Know your schedule going into the call. In the best of situations, attorneys start their expert witness search well in advance of important deadlines, such as expert designation and initial reports. In many cases, however, the timing is more urgent. Being able to commit to a time table is often the critical variable that determines an engagement.
 
Know your rate structure, and make it easy to work with. Many people have written on how to set rates, retainers, payment terms and such, and it is not my intent to add to that body of literature, but one thing is clear - an onerous rate scheme inhibits retention.
 
Just this week, I presented an eminently skilled psychiatrist with gravitas and availability to meet a fast-approaching deadline. But his rates structure was complicated (9 different rates!) and had onerous terms – and was rejected without an interview call because of that. Our AmLaw client, with which we have had a decades long relationship, told us that his rates were too “complicated and onerous” (her words exactly) and that it turned them away from using that expert. Note, she did not complain about the amount of the rates, (which were not low) but to the complexity and terms.  Remember, your rate schedule is just as important a part of your sales pitch as your expertise, communication, and availability.
 
There is extensive writing on making a first impression – for interviews, for sales, even for dating! One thing is abundantly clear: First impressions matter, and along with subject matter expertise, clear communication of pertinent information and simple, easy to understand terms will always make your first impression a lasting one, and lead to more engagements. 

**This article was originally published in the FEWA (Forensic Expert Witness Association) Quarter 3 Newsletter. Published with permission.
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Toby Edwards

Toby Edwards is a Senior Recruiting Consultant with IMS ExpertServices. He has more than ten years of experience in recruiting and placing experts on high-stakes business litigation cases. This experience allows him to lend insights and advice to experts across many industries. 

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