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As we near the end of the 20th century, we can communicate instantaneously with people anywhere in the world. Nations receive news via huge satellite systems; individuals can transact business on cellular phones; and the Internet is removing geographic boundaries. But all of the sophisticated technology is useless unless the message being transmitted is clear and easily understood.

Communication issues affect all human interactions--from delicate Summit negotiations to the conversations around your own dinner table. Nations go to war and marriages end when the parties "just can't seem to communicate anymore."

Good communication is a critical element in your relationship with an expert, too. It is up to you to ask the important questions. Assume nothing. Don't depend on the expert to volunteer answers to your unasked questions.

The first item on the communication agenda is to make certain that the expert you are considering is the right one for you. The following story illustrates the point. It sounds apocryphal, but a client actually witnessed this scene:

One evening, at a vacation resort high above sea level, one of the hotel guests overindulged and passed out. In doing so, he banged his head unceremoniously on the table. Fortunately, there was a Dr. Williams listed as a guest at the hotel, and he was immediately summoned to the dining room. Arriving in his night clothes, and quite out of breath, the "doctor" exclaimed that his doctorate degree was a Ph.D in Literature, not medicine! The moral of the story is: qualify your expert ahead of time.


* Have you verified the expert's credentials? Are they valid and appropriate for your situation?

* Is the expert experienced? Has he or she testified before? Where? When?

* Are there any skeletons in the expert's closet?

* Can the expert supply references, names of other clients for whom he or she has written reports or testified?

It is far better to know the answers to these critical questions at the beginning of your relationship than to learn of them during cross-examination.

You should have a clear understanding in at least one other important area, also: the cost.

* When does the meter start running? Is there a charge for the initial telephone discussion when you are deciding if the expert can help or not? At what point have you made a commitment?

* Is there a charge for a face-to-face interview? Not only might a meeting let you determine if the "chemistry" is good between you, but it could give you an opportunity to assess whether the expert would be a credible witness.

* Does the expert charge the same or different rates for research, report writing, travel, lab work, deposition, or trial?

* Are any fees required in advance?

* Will the expert be doing all of the work, or might there be a need for an assistant or laboratory services? How would those services be billed?

* If you have a budget, have you discussed it with the expert?

* How much time does the expert estimate for each phase of service? What is the total project likely to cost? Are the fees commensurate with the value of the case? (Your client might be justifiably upset that her drapes were ruined by the dry cleaner. But she may be more upset if you don't find out what it will cost to analyze the fiber, do the research, and prepare a report.)

While success is never guaranteed, you are more likely to be happy with the outcome of your relationship when you take the time to communicate with your expert.

* The above material was excerpted, modified or otherwise prepared by the 'Lectric Law Library from an article by TASA published in the 3/91 issue of Virginia Lawyers Weekly. Technical Advisory Service, Inc. The original was found it at TASA's website at www.tasanet.com

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