To make a good first impression with a potential client attorney, an expert needs to have some working knowledge of the legal language attorneys use when discussing a case. The initial interview is very important, as it provides the attorney an opportunity to determine if your expertise is a good fit for the case. It also gives the attorney a sense of how familiar you are with the legal process. When an attorney uses words like plaintiffs, complaint, discovery, scheduling order, and opine, you should know what he/she is referring to and you should be able to use appropriate terms when asking and answering questions. Here we present some of the lingo typically used in initial communications with an attorney.
Civil vs. Criminal Cases
Experts retained in civil cases work on behalf of the plaintiff or the defendant. The plaintiff is the side suing, the defendant is the side being sued. In civil cases, the plaintiff or the defendant is an individual, an entity or a group of individuals or entities, or a municipality or an agency. Sometimes in civil matters, the defendant then files a case against another party over the same issues. That party is known as the third-party defendant. In a criminal case, the prosecution is the side filing a case against the defendant, and the prosecution is always the government. Experts can be retained (hired) by the prosecution or the defendant.
During the initial interview, the attorney will want to know whether your qualifications match aspects of the case requiring expert testimony, and therefore may ask if you can opine on certain issues. The term, opine, means to express an opinion, and it would be appropriate for you to respond with a yes or no as to whether you have expertise to offer opinions on those issues. Expert testimony is a term used to describe what you are going to say at trial, and can be in the form of an opinion as well as an explanation of scientific, financial, engineering, medical or other principles relevant to the case.
During the initial interview or subsequent conversations, ask the attorney how far into the pre-trial discovery process they are. The pre-trial discovery process is the time period that opposing sides have to gather discovery in preparation for trial. Discovery is the exchange of information by opposing parties, such as company documents, a person’s medical history, or email communications between employees. If the attorney says the complaint was recently filed, then you know it is very early in the case, and no discovery has occurred. The complaint is the initial document filed with the court by the plaintiff’s attorney stating the basis for the lawsuit and sets the first timeline in the legal process. The defendant typically has thirty days to reply to the claims (allegations) in the complaint. If discovery has already begun, then another way to find out the timeline of the case is to ask if there is a scheduling order or case management order (CMO). The scheduling order or CMO sets the dates by which both sides need to meet various milestones during the pre-trial process, as well as the start of trial. It is an agreement between the parties and the judge handling the case. If there is a scheduling order, then you most certainly want to know when expert disclosures are due. An expert disclosure contains information about the expert witness(es) that the opposing parties plan to have testify at trial, and if in federal court, will require an expert report. This information, at a minimum, will include the expert’s name, area of expertise, qualifications and the expert’s intended testimony. When the attorney informs you that expert discovery closes on a certain date, that means experts on both sides must have submitted expert reports (if required) and have been deposed by that time. If that date is within a few months, then you know the case is far along and you have limited time to conduct your review of the discovery materials, perform any independent research, and form your opinions. Use the initial interview to determine if the case fits with your qualifications and availability, and if so, to promote your expertise and the specialized knowledge you bring to the table. To do this effectively, you need to know what questions to ask and be able to comprehend the answers. Using and understanding basic legal jargon during this dialog will assist you in getting the information you want to know as well as to demonstrate to the attorney your familiarity will the legal process. <Comment>