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ResearchWire - Finding and Investigating Expert Witnesses

By Michelle Ayers, Published on July 21, 1997

Michelle Ayers is Principal of Ayers Information Network in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

(Archived September 1, 1997)


There are about as many ways to gather information on expert witnesses as there are expert witnesses -- which is to say a lot. After years of researching expert witnesses at my now disbanded insurance defense law firm, and now for nearly 4 years in my own research business, I have developed strategies for finding and profiling these individuals who have become a prominent part of the legal landscape. Within this article you will find the search strategies that I have found most successful.

This article will look at the two aspects of expert witness research:

Basic elements of both types of searches are the elements of what we information professionals call a good "reference interview." That is, have a clear understanding of what you are looking for in an expert, e.g, discipline, locale, experience both in the field and in court. Here are two key points to include when considering what type of an expert you are trying to find:

How to find an expert

Hieros Gamos - good for lots of legal things including finding experts.

Finding expert witnesses on the Internet - this site lists 8 key sources for finding experts on the Internet many of which I highly recommend for finding experts.

Don't forget to do a general search in some of the key Internet search engines. Among other things, this may turn up key personal information on the expert. Recently, I did a search for an expert and found his wife was a prominent artist with her own Website. She was also listed as a partner in the expert witness service set up by her husband. Information not necessarily relevant to the case but background on the expert nonetheless. For an excellent review of search engines, specifically, when to use which ones, I refer you to Sue Feldman's article in the May 1997 issue of Searcher entitled "Just the Answers, Please" Choosing a Web Search Service. I particularly enjoyed the section entitled "Why you shouldn't worry when your search retrieves 6 million hits."

Internet Caution: The business of being an expert witness is big business. With some experts raking in $5,000 a day plus expenses, it is easy to see the lure of becoming one. Keep in mind that many of these sites on theWeb are self-promotion at its best. However, you may want an "expert" expert and one of the Internet listings may provide the quick answer.

But how do you find the person who toils everyday as a professional engineer designing or testing truck engines? The person who may be a college professor teaching building design? This person may not be a "professional" expert with courtroom experience but may be just the type of expert to lend credibility to the case. To find these individuals, the answer may lie in employing your best Dialog search methods in the relevant subject databases. You must be a subscriber to use this information service.

There are some Dialog files that should be common to any expert witness search, however. These include: 148 Trade and Industry News; 287 Biography Master Index, 47 Dissertation Abstracts, 613 PR Newswire, 77 Conference Papers, 111 National Newspaper Index. Engineer searches should always include: 6 NTIS, 161 Occupational Safety and Health, 8 Compendex, and 14 ISMECH. For medical doctors, the venerable Medline is tops, now available for free from Medscape and PubMed. When using these Websites, be sure to read the "Terms and Conditions" statements. For fast, precision searching I still recommend using Medline on Dialog, however. For books authored by the expert, check Dialog's File 470, Books in Print or Amazon Books, which some call the free Internet version of BIP.

Sometimes Usenet newsgroup searches using DejaNews can be successful in locating the expert toiling in the trenches but yet to be tapped for the lucrative world of testifying as an expert witness. They can sometimes come at a bargain price. (Sometime ago I located an M.D. with an expertise in the digestive tract from a local hospital/university. My client was thrilled with the discovery of this low-cost gem and used him on several other occasions. However, the doctor eventually got wise and is now among the ranks of the seasoned professional experts.)

Conducting a background investigation of an expert

Begin by employing your basic "reference interview" with these points in mind:

Three types of expert witness background checks

Mainly because of cost concerns, I offer my clients 3 types of search strategies:

When the background search request includes a request for prior testimony

Here's where basic telephone skills come into play. Successful IDEX searches, or state, federal or jury verdict and settlement database searches will turn up the names of attorneys who have dealt with this expert before. Still, the best way to get copies of transcripts of prior testimony is to call that attorney. To locate the current firm listing and phone number of the attorney, check the various legal directories on the Internet. I often use West's Legal Directory. Experience has taught me that cold calling will often not get you directly to the attorney - so don't even try. What you are looking for here is the kind hearted secretary or paralegal who would know the whereabouts of the transcript within the firm. Sometimes, you will find the law librarian who has a cataloged collection of prior testimony at her fingertips. If the transcript is easily obtained, often it will be sent at no charge. Some firms charge but that is rare. If the file is older and warehoused offsite, then good luck. There is no incentive for the person to spend the time and money necessary to gain access to these files for a stranger law firm -- although there are some nice folks out there and you may get lucky. At this point, if an attorney wants the transcript badly enough, s/he should call the other attorney directly. Sometimes this attorney-to-attorney contact is productive.

There are some commercial services for obtaining prior testimony. They include IDEX and Westlaw which has an agreement between the U.S. Court Reporters Association and the National Expert Transcript Service. Users can preview abstracts of transcripts and then order the full-text document. Also, if it is a high-profile case, expert transcripts may be available on WEXIS file or website.

Conclusion

Finding and investigating expert witnesses is often time consuming and expensive. If you have the proper information and budget, you should turn up some nugget that will be useful. But what if you don't find anything? Even if you are "100% sure" there is something out there. Thoroughly document your searches, printing out "no records" when you can. Sometimes the answer "no records" may be just what you want to hear. If not, a well documented search on your part will be the evidence you need to backup your efforts. As we legal information professionals all know, but sometimes have trouble convincing the attorneys with whom we work, not everything is on the Internet -- yet. The coming digital workplace will, I suspect, allow for easier access to expert witness materials as paper storage disappears and documents stay in digital format. Courts limiting the use of experts (see e.g., Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and Elkins v.Syken, 21 F.L.W. S159 (Fla. 1996) could also diminish the need for these types of searches. Until then, know that an expert search is costly both in staff time and money. Forewarned is forearmed.

Finally, a shameless plug

Ayers Information Network as access to all of the sources listed above. If you are in need of an expert search but lack the staff time or resources, then consider outsourcing this work to us. We are here to compliment your in-house library services -- not rival them.