How Much to Say in the Initial Inquiry Call
I understand an attorney wants to feel you out, so to speak, and there seems to be a fine line as to whether you give too much information or not enough. Is it common to just say "Yes, I believe I can help you" and just ask for the file to review, and then charge a fee? Is it common to just charge a fee to review the case file and then send a written general opinion on the case?
How much opinion to share with the attorney in the initial inquiry call is a question often discussed at expert witness gatherings. Attorneys have certainly taken advantage of experts in two ways - the expert wanting to understand as much as possible about the case before committing, and a natural inclination to be of help.
This has resulted in 1) being named as the expert without being paid (See http://tinyurl.com/4gvhez) or 2) the attorney feeling he now has enough "review for merit" information to make his decision as to whether or not to pursue or defend the case, and, again, the expert is not paid, even though he has provided the information. Nonetheless, you have to communicate with the attorney at least enough to decide whether you are even willing to look at the case.
The attorney should specify whether he is hiring you to initially review the case for merit, or is already committed to the case and wants you to be the expert witness. If the former, after review and/or investigation, you may get back to the attorney with your recommendation that he/she (Plaintiff) not pursue the case or (Defense) settle as
quickly and cheaply as possible.
Additionally, if the latter, even if after the initial conversation you THINK you can support the position presented, based on the information the attorney has given you, sometimes the files and/or investigation tell a different story from what the attorney has told you. In this instance, you are in the uncomfortable position (after having been named as the expert witness) of delivering the opinion outlined above, i.e., you cannot with integrity support the position for which you were engaged.
What this all adds up to is that when you are engaged, you must not commit to supporting a position you have not yet investigated and verified for yourself.
And, secondly, since your expertise and your time are your service offerings, your opinion should not be provided free. Especially since the case may not progress after your opinion is rendered, you should get paid in advance for the case review.
By the way, re your last point - Because of sometimes delivering bad news, along with other reasons, never send a written opinion on the case until requested to do. Your initial opinion should be given orally to your engaging attorney, and then he/she instructs you what to do from there.
Rosalie Hamilton is the Expert's Expert on marketing. She is a consultant, coach, outsourced marketing provider and the author of "The Expert Witness Marketing Book". Rosalie is a prolific writer, contributing to expert witness directories, newsletters and newspapers, and professional journals. She is a frequent speaker at conferences for such organizations as the American Society of Appraisers, NACVA, the Forensic Accounting Conference at Florida Atlantic University, SEAK, American Board of Vocational Experts, Appraisal Institute, Acoustical Society of America, Equipment Appraisers Association, NADE, and Forensic Expert Witness Association.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.