Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Create Opportunities in Everyday Life (no 'selling' required)

It is very easy to fall victim to "tunnel vision". The first few cases you consult on are product liability cases, so all you look for are attorneys who handle cases just like those. Or you know your prospects are attorneys, so you neglect any and all other relationships and networking opportunities. Ignoring other avenues and possibilities like this is a great way to give your competitors more business.

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but it's true: You never know where your next referral will come from. This is why being able to clearly state what you do and for whom in a brief, well-rehearsed statement is so important. Engage in conversation with almost anyone, from your drycleaner to the person behind you in line at the supermarket, and inevitably you will be asked, "And what do you do?"

This is an opportunity! You don't know who they are and, possibly more importantly, you don't know who they know. So don't just reply, "I'm a doctor". Be prepared with your Statement of Profession, "I am an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine and help attorneys with their cases, both plaintiff and defense", or "I am an engineer and consult with attorneys on structural engineering claims".

Always have plenty of business cards with you and easily accessible. It's natural and comfortable to hand over your business card while answering the "what do you do?" question. It helps you explain your practice, especially if you are uncomfortable discussing your legal support services in casual conversation.

Now that this new acquaintance has your card, you have an opportunity. A few weeks later when his neighbor, Sally Smith, Esq. is describing her newest case involving an injured player from the state college football team, he'll be able to say, "You know, I was talking to a doctor the other day who helps attorneys with just that kind of thing. Let me get you his card". (I can hear you guffawing, thinking "yeah, like that'll ever happen" but let me assure you, it does. One expert recently told me his most successful marketing came from running into a previous neighbor at a mutual friend's birthday party - that chance meeting resulted in the biggest case he had ever worked on!)

Make sure your casual acquaintances understand what you do and for whom, and keep in touch with them so that your name and expertise will come readily to mind when an opportunity arises. If any individuals in your circle are CIOs - Centers of Influence - take them to lunch every now and then. Centers of Influence are people who seem to know everybody and come into contact with people from many different walks of life on a regular basis. This could be your accountant who also holds a seat on the Downtown Development Board or even the golf pro at your local country club.

Don't limit yourself by ignoring potential referral sources. Be clear about what you do and make sure everyone knows you, likes you, and understands what you do.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Are Attorneys Just Plain Stingy?

There is nothing like the subject of being (or not being) paid by attorneys to get experts talking! After recent comments and articles on the subject, I received quite a bit of feedback. I would like to share some of those emails and our responses now and in future posts. (You can read other comments by experts from a discussion on this subject we had last year in our free special report Expert Pay Discussion) You may have faced similar situations or, may learn how to prevent such problems from occurring. Here's one situation that many of you may have encountered:

"I'm an expert with 20 plus years experience. Only about 10% of my cases end up in court, but in the past week I've had an issue arise regarding deposition fees.

My client attorney failed to communicate to the deposing attorney that my fee for a depo is double that of my normal hourly rate and that I require a two-hour minimum payment (since they don't pay time and mileage). Because of this, I traveled 200 miles (round trip) and spent a half-day for payment of one hour at my regular rate. The deposing attorney refused to pay the additional time or my standard depo rate. Also, the judge ordered the parties back to court at exactly the time I was due to be deposed, which meant I was left cooling my heels for an additional three hours. Nobody paid for this time. Is there a way around this situation?"

"Absolutely there is. You never leave your office for a deposition without having received, in advance, a check for the estimated time of the deposition plus travel time. An expert does well to get paid by the attorney who engaged him, much less by opposing counsel. This was an expensive lesson, but use it to set future policy.

Experts have experienced so much difficulty in getting paid for legal work that I devoted two entire chapters to this subject in my book, The Expert Witness Marketing Book and it is my favorite topic at expert conferences. Because the difficulties are not necessary -- all you have to do is get retainers, signatures, prepayment, etc. in advance.

If you are assertive enough, you rarely have to become aggressive. A situation like the one you now find yourself in requires being aggressive, and even then will most likely not end well. Plus, it does not feel good to have to become aggressive. Do yourself a favor and handle issues of getting paid beforehand."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Experts Respond to "Watch Your Billing Practices"

We recently sent an email to our newsletter subscribers, "Another Reason to Watch Your Billing Practices" (you can find a reprint of the article at the bottom of this post). I received many very helpful responses from readers which I hope to share with you at a later date.

But the attention paid to this subject prompted me to realize that many new subscribers may be unaware of our "Getting Paid" discussion that occurred last year. We published an article in our free monthly email newsletter containing advice for experts on making sure they get paid. The response to that article was so overwhelming, we compiled all of the messages, along with an extended dialogue between Rosalie and an expert with a different perspective on billing and engagement practices of experts. The resulting compilation of the report, expert responses, and dialogue can be found in the free Expert Pay Discussion.

If you haven't, please read the Expert Pay Discussion and the article below and let me know what you think.

Another Reason to Watch Your Billing Practices

Clients and long-time readers of our newsletter know the importance we place on making sure you get paid for your time and expertise. In addition to all of the reasons stated before, the recent high profile trial and investigation into plaintiff firm Milberg Weiss highlight another very persuasive reason to set your rates, have a contract, be paid prior to deposition and testimony and -- most importantly -- make sure you get paid. It's not just a matter of money - you could endanger your reputation, career, and even freedom.

Expert John Torkelson has had a very lucrative career as a securities expert, much of it on behalf of Milberg Weiss. In the midst of a slew of charges against Milberg Weiss, Torkelson's name has surfaced repeatedly. The most recent allegation and the one most relevant to you involves an accusation of being paid on contingency. As Justin Scheck recently reported in The Recorder:

"That's a particularly stinging charge...since he and the lawyers who
employed him told courts that he was pa1d an hourly rate. That criticism
gained steam after a 1998 deposition by L.A. defense lawyer Marshall
Grossman, in which Torkelson admitted he received more than his hourly
rate in some cases, and no payment in ones where Milberg didn't get

I cringed when I read this. I have heard so many stories from experts about discounting their fees or forgiving the outstanding invoices owed them when a case was lost or when retaining counsel failed to collect their fees from their client. Reasons for doing this have included: did not insist on a contract; did not require a retainer, or had long ago exhausted it; did not want to offend the attorney or felt bad for him/her; and, even hoped for more work from the attorney in the future!

But as you can see, it is NOT just a matter of collecting payment due you for services rendered. Failing to insist on payment can be used to paint a picture of you as a "gun for hire" in the eyes of the court, attorneys, and the public at large. Not only could this run off potential clients and disqualify you in court, but it could result in criminal charges against you.

"...L.A. prosecutors, sources familiar with the case say, could bring
Torkelson into the current indictment by arguing that any improprieties
having to do with his payment arrangements are part of an ongoing
practice of perjury or obstructing justice."

If you state to the court that you are working on an hourly rate basis, being paid for your time and expertise, then have in place and use the standard business documents and procedures xpected for this billing practice. Insist on a signed contract, collect a retainer, and require payment of all outstanding invoices prior to issuing a written report or providing deposition or courtroom testimony.

(Note: This is a tactic sometimes used by opposing counsel:

"Mr. Smith, have you received payment yet from XYZ firm for your fees in this matter?"

"Not in full, no."

"So, Mr. Smith, whether you get paid or not depends on what you say here, is that right?")

If the case settles early in the proceedings and you are owed money, immediately take necessary steps to try to collect. At some point, you have to decide if it's worth going to extreme measures, but there are various options in terms of cost and risk. At a minimum, be able to show that you made a reasonable effort to collect your fees so that there is never even the appearance that you work on contingency.

This applies even if the retaining counsel's client loses or if the attorney can't collect from the client. This is irrelevant to you, as you are hired by the attorney and are an advocate for your opinion, not for the client. Using standard business procedures and enforcing them can protect your reputation, credibility and career.

As Scheck concludes in the article:

"But after Torkelson stopped his expert work -- partially, sources
familiar with his work say, because plaintiffs lawyers felt his
credibility was hurt by the accusations of being pa1d on contingency --
his slide toward ignominy began."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Value of Your Expertise: Be Willing to Say "No"

Long-time readers and clients are doubtless familiar with our mantra, "If you are never turned down because of your rate, you aren't charging enough."

Attorneys may choose an expert based on any one or more of a variety of factors (primarily the "likeability factor" but that's a complete article in itself). But attorneys almost never pick one expert over another simply because he or she has the lower fee; they want to represent the client's interests and win the case!

In fact, a low rate can work against you, in that cost is frequently equated with value. If your rates are not in the mid to high range for experts in your field, it can indicate to some potential prospects that you must not be that good.

With that in mind, be willing to say "No" to potential clients who ask you to discount your rates (they are usually the ones who are difficult to work with and hard to collect from too). Value your knowledge, experience, and expertise and charge for it accordingly.

With 1,104,706 attorneys out there (ABA Market Research Dept., 2005), and growth trends in litigation showing no signs of waning, a scarcity of cases and potential clients is not a problem. It's simply a matter of achieving a certain level of visibility with those attorneys who may need your services and consistently communicating with them.

If you...

1) Adopt the attitude, "there is an abundance of available work out there"

2) Implement a strategic, legal-appropriate marketing plan to consistently communicate your value and increase your credibility in the eyes of potential clients, and

3) Be confident and assured of the worth of your services CAN successfully charge and get paid the fees you deserve.

Communicate your value, charge what you're worth and say "no" to bargain shoppers.