Is your consultant qualified? How do you know?

A story in the news this election season reminded me of the relevance of this topic. A candidate for the Florida House of Representatives was “outed” for reporting she had a college degree that she could not have had – the university she reported having attended never offered the degree shown on her (fake) diploma, nor did it have a record of her graduating, ever, with any degree. How one comes up with a real looking but fake diploma is beyond me. Why one doesn’t imagine being “busted” is similarly hard to comprehend. The fact that someone would risk being caught lying about something they didn’t have to lie about makes no sense – no degree is required for political office. But, time and time again, these examples materialize. Fortunately for the citizens she would represent, the media did its job and published the information – her withdrawal from the race was swift. More to the point, however, is the question of how anyone really knows if the person they hire for a job is qualified. In some fields, it is easier than other to determine. When a lawyer hands out a business card one can verify what is being represented to a large degree – one can determine if he/she is a member of the state bar association, licensed, and, pretty easily, what law school and college was attended. More about the person’s qualifications and experience can be learned with a few keystrokes. In our wild west world of trial consulting, this is not the case. Magnus, unfortunately, competes with consultants who are uneducated about research, psychology, decision making, law, or anything relevant to the jury and trial consulting world. A number of years ago, we got undercut in a bid, by half, by someone who had previously applied for a job with our company. As a result, I was aware of her lack of education, so I suggested to the client that he ask. She reported having a B.A. from a well known college and an M.A. from another. I checked with the 2 schools (a couple of phone calls were all that was required), and just like the politician noted above, neither school had a record of her graduation; only one had documented her attending (for a short time). But, because she had some sources to refer her to attorneys, she got through the vetting process, because who would have thought she was fabricating her credentials? This is not an isolated example; another well known trial consultant correctly reported that she had a certain advanced degree, but listed her major concentration as one not offered by the university from which she graduated. (As an aside, I learned today that Florida Statute 817.566 on “Fraudulent Practices” criminalizes this behavior.) So, how do you know? And, does it matter? I think it matters for many reasons. If a consultant is willing to falsify their credentials, what else do they falsify? If someone who should be hired for expertise is not an expert, why would anyone want to hire them? Finding out is trickier, but in the high stakes world of litigation, hiring should involve being sure you are getting what you, and your client, deserve. If in doubt, check it out! As said in another post, better safe than sorry.

I have decided to adopt the writing style of the famous author, Carl Hiaassen, for my part of David’s post. For those readers of our blogs who aren’t familiar with Carl Hiaassen, I will provide a brief introduction. Carl Hiaassen is an author who has written more than 20 books, as well as a long time columnist for my favorite Florida newspaper, The Miami Herald. Like me, he is a native Floridian and also like me, he has devoted his career to exposing injustice in the world. Mr. Hiaassen often adopts an interesting journalistic style, in which he creates imaginary interview questions and answers with controversial politicians and other well known people. I will emulate this style in the following “interview” I imagine conducting with attorneys who are contemplating hiring a trial consultant.

Attorney: “Doctor, I am trying to compare your rates, which seem expensive, with the rates of your competitor, Ms. X. Can you explain why you charge so much more than her?”

Me: “My rates are actually very affordable, considering the old maxim, ‘You get what you pay for.’ I have a Ph. D. in social psychology, have conducted research in the area of psychology and the law since 1980, have numerous publications in scientific journals, and have conducted research on numerous sizable cases. Meanwhile, although Ms. X is, at best, a good judge of people’s character, her highest education is a G. E. D. and her only other qualification is her status as the former girlfriend of another trial consultant with a questionable reputation.”

Attorney: “It seems to me that being a good judge of character is just as valuable for my clients and me as your highfalutin Ph. D. Why should I pay you many times more than what Ms. X has quoted for doing the same work?”

Me: “When you retain me, it is similar to having the surgeon perform your surgery, instead of the surgical technician, or worse, the hospital’s housekeeper. It is similar to having your dentist extract your abscessed tooth instead of the hygienist. It is similar to having a general contractor build your house instead of a drywall installer. It is similar to having Paul McCartney play the bass guitar instead of someone in a cover band playing a Beatles song. (Admittedly, I am not even close to Paul McCartney on any measurable scale, but it is fun to throw in Beatles references whenever I can!) When faced with these comparisons, which person would you hire?”

Attorney: “Well, now that I have actually taken the time to read Ms. X’s resumé, I see that she has a degree from University YYZ (insert name of fake, online college here). It appears that you are wrong, Dr. Pigott, about her having a high school equivalency certificate.”

Me: “Call or email University YYZ and you will find out Ms. X has, to be kind, padded her resumé. I have known her for a long time and I know for a fact her highest educational attainment is from the School of Hard Knocks. And, by the way, I don’t have a resumé. People with Ph.D. degrees have curriculum vitae. And, just to be clear, I know what I am doing and she, well, sad to say, does not.”

I have, of course, never had this kind of conversation with an attorney. I sincerely hope I never do! But, the point of this post is that, with anything and everything in life, people get what they pay for and, to ensure the client is getting the expertise he/she is relying upon to prevail in important litigation, the attorney must perform due diligence on everyone who is assisting in the case. Doing anything else is, in my opinion, inexcusable.

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