Selecting a medical expert can be the single most important decision an attorney makes when preparing a case. The impact that a physician who is knowledgeable, prepared, experienced and personable can make on a case cannot be overestimated. Screening and credentialing of experts can be difficult, but using medical-legal consulting groups that provide experts can expedite the process.
By Garth Sullivan and Barry Gustin|October 09, 2003 at 12:00 AM
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Selecting a medical expert is the single most important decision an attorney makes when preparing a case. The impact that a physician who is knowledgeable, prepared, experienced and personable can make on a case cannot be overestimated. However, many of these intangible qualities are simply not apparent from a curriculum vitae (CV), nor can they be deduced from the typical, hurried phone conversation that many medical experts grudgingly provide inquiring attorneys. Ideally, an attorney would obtain a referral to a medical expert from a trusted colleague, one who had experience with the recommended expert. However, this is not always possible given the multitude of specialties and the scheduling issues inherent in the medical profession. When a referral cannot be obtained, an attorney must then either cold-call potential experts or contact a company specializing in providing medical experts. The pitfalls of cold-calling medical experts are well known to every attorney. Most doctors simply will not accept calls from attorneys, no matter how many calls are made or the nature of the messages. These doctors are simply too busy, they dislike attorneys or they are uninterested in legal work. Hours of valuable time are wasted attempting to merely get a doctor on the phone. Once a doctor is contacted, it is virtually impossible to make an intelligent decision about the doctor’s suitability from a telephone conversation, simply because very little can be ascertained during this brief encounter. While the CV is useful for disqualifying clearly inappropriate specialties, the CV does not provide the attorney with information concerning the doctor’s experience and how it relates to the case’s medical issues; the ease with which the doctor works with others, including the retaining attorney; his ability to communicate clearly to a jury; his ability to handle a withering cross-examination; his commitment to seeing the case through to completion; and his level of preparation or his integrity when it comes to billing. War stories concerning the failings and billings of medical experts are numerous. Of course, there are pitfalls associated with using companies specializing in providing experts, medical or otherwise. Many of these companies are simply r�sum� clearinghouses that charge a fee for indiscriminately providing attorneys with stacks of r�sum�s. These companies do not have staff physicians who can authoritatively evaluate the medical issues in a case or an expert’s suitability. And they do not screen the credentials, personality, litigation history, availability or billing practices of the experts referred. Obtaining CVs in this fashion is actually worse than cold-calling experts because the attorney has now paid someone else to cold-call experts who still may or may not be suitable. Fortunately, not all medical-legal consulting groups are clearinghouses for r�sum�s. In the absence of a referral from a trusted attorney or physician, these companies can be extremely valuable resources for quality experts. What follows is a list of criteria that an attorney should look for when considering a medical-legal consulting group.
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