When you have a legal need or are searching for information in a specific area of law, it can be helpful to speak to an expert who has specialized knowledge in that area of law. While there are many resources that you can turn to, including websites and directories, how do you find somebody who is truly an expert in an area of law?
Although there is no perfect way to find an expert, here are some suggestions that can help you find the expertise you seek.
The general process of finding a lawyer may involve seeking referrals from lawyers you trust, seeking referrals from bar assocations or legal organizations, online searches, and the use of directories. But when you are looking for a lawyer who practices in a relatively narrow or specialized field, the search process can become more complicated. Generally speaking the more specialized your legal need, the more difficult it becomes to find lawyers or other resources that can refer you to another lawyer with the specific specialized knowledge and skill that you seek.
One place to find lawyers who may have highly specialized knowledge is by searching law school faculty directories. Some law school faculty members are members of law firms, or sometimes handle or consult on specialized cases. If you find a faculty member who has the expertise that you are seeking, you can contact that faculty member to ask about possible representation or referrals to lawyers that the faculty member knows to be skilled in the area.
You can also look for scholarship written by lawyers, to try to find articles or other content that reflects the lawyer's legal expertise. You may find some articles through general web searches, but you can also find many law review articles through services like Google Scholar, and if you find an article by a lawyer or professor who demonstrates the knowledge you require you can contact that professional about possible legal representation or a referral. You may be able to access a more complete directory of legal scholarship through your public library, or by visiting a law library.
Expert lawyers often provide instruction to other lawyers through continuing legal education (CLE) programs. You may be able to find an expert by searching for CLE courses through provider websites, and identifying lawyers who have taught courses in the subject for which you require an expert. Most states offer CLE through the state bar or through an affiliated nonprofit provider. You will also find CLE courses offered by membership organizations such as the American Bar Association, and from a number of private CLE providers.
Law schools carry extensive libraries, and library directories are usually available online. There is also normally a law library avaialble at any given county courthouse. You may find practitioner's guides and state-specific legal resources within those libraries, as well as legal treatises and other scholarly works that delve into narrow areas of law. If you identify the authors of works within an area of legal expertise, you can contact the authors to see whether they can provide assistance or referrals.
If you're a private individual seeking an expert witness, and you have a lawyer, you should delegate the task of locating and retaining an expert witness to your lawyer. Your lawyer should be the person best positioned to identify an expert witness who has the skills necessary to advance your case or claim, while also taking into consideration the availability of the expert to provide pre-trial consultation, and appear to testify at deposition or at trial. Your lawyer may have previously used a qualified expert witness in a similar case, or may be able to reach out to peers for suggestions about possible experts.
It may be possible to find an expert witness by searching articles and scholarly literature within a specific field of expertise, or searching for experts who have presented at conferences in the relevant subject area, and also by searching faculty websites at colleges and universities. Although many people who author or contribute to scholarly works are not interested in providing litigation support services or expert testimony, some will be and others may be able to suggest peers who have the requisite skills and knowledge to provide effective support and testimony.
Expert witness referral services will often provide C.V.s or similar documentation of people who have registered with them as potential experts, and that information can be used to identify and later interview potential experts. However, referral services typically charge substantial fees for their services. Many expert witnesses indicate their willingness to testify as experts by participating in expert witness directories (including the directory on this site), or by describing their services on their websites. No matter how you identify possible experts, you will need to scrutinize their claimed qualification, and should interview them before making any decision about which expert to retain.
A number of organizations provide verdict reports that summarize the outcomes of litigated cases. Those reports often identify the experts who provided testimony before the case reached a settlement or verdict. It may be possible to identify potential experts from verdict reports from similar cases.
Some legal associations maintain directories of expert witnesses that their members have used in the past. Similarly, for criminal cases, public defender agencies and organizations may maintain directories of experts who have provided services to defendants. Those directories may be available to members or, in some cases, for subscription or more broadly available to the public.
Before you retain an expert, you should investigate the expert's role and performance in any prior cases in which the expert has provided testimony or support. Your expert should provide you with a list of cases in which he or she has previously provided services, allowing you to verify outcomes and potentially seek confirmation of the expert's knowledge and skill from other lawyers who have used the expert's services. You should look for historic information about the expert, including any past résumés that you may find online or through other sources, to verify that the expert has been consistent in describing his or her expertise and to check for any unexplained gaps or changes in their academic, employment or litigation support history.
What if you're looking for a legal expert for a purpose other than a specific legal case? For example, what if you want a legal expert to provide commentary for an article that you are writing, to participate in an interview, or to appear on a television or radio broadcast?
The general outline of how to seek an expert remains the same as with a specialized lawyer or expert witness. The search for possible consultants should be easier, as your search will not necessarily exclude lawyers who are too busy to take a specific case or are located in another part of the country, or other legal experts who are willing to provide information or consultation but are not interested in participating in depositions or other trial proceedings.