Trial team members, not vendors or facilitators

I’m writing this on a Monday, so I’m going to vent a little. This is a topic I’ve had on my list to write about for quite some time; I just never got to it, in part, because I don’t like to venture into areas of self importance. But, here I go. As trial consultants, we at Magnus believe that, when we are retained, we become professional members of the trial team, offering our perspectives and expertise which come from a different place than the perspectives of the lawyers who are litigating the case. For example, Melissa has more education than the lawyers (mine is about on par with theirs). Further, we have expertise in areas that the lawyers do not, which they need. Yet, sometimes, we are viewed as “vendors” or “facilitators” by the staff at law firms (usually not by the lawyers) and by others. There is a growing world of companies providing litigation support. Some of this is “technical,” like visual presentation or e-discovery, some of it is expert, like witnesses, and some of it is a vendor type of arrangement, like a photocopy service. The latter of these providers operate in a vendor arrangement, while the former provide various degrees of expertise. I say all this to address the expert/vendor issue and to point out that there is a difference. Where this comes home to roost is when I’m asked to provide a limited service like recruiting mock jurors for a “do it yourselfer” attorney. That is not what Magnus is about. Unfortunately, some attorneys delegate the task of finding a trial consultant to someone (paralegal or associate) who has no idea what they are shopping for; they don’t know what to look for in a trial consultant. (Of course, as we have posted previously, there are many poorly qualified consultants who, perhaps, are best viewed as facilitators.) This happened to me recently and, as has happened a number of times over the years, it didn’t result in Magnus being retained. The lawyers were said to be “too busy” to talk to me, therefore, the paralegal was my only contact. Paralegals do a wonderful job and are extremely helpful to us, but in this pre-engagement role, I need to speak with the lawyers. I need to ensure that they comprehend what role we, as trial consultants, play in the litigation of their case. We complement their expertise in litigation with our expertise in social science research and the human dynamics of litigation.

Please note: I am not writing my part of David’s post on a Monday; furthermore, I think David’s topic is appropriate regardless of the day of the week!  This being said, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with being a vendor.  In fact, some of my favorite things are sold by vendors: hot dogs being sold by a hot dog vendor on a street in Manhattan; concert tickets being sold by the various purveyors of tickets; and fast cars being sold by car dealerships.  The dictionary defines vendor as one who vends, that is, sells.  Given this definition, anyone or any entity that sells something to another person or entity is a vendor.  But this only goes so far in explaining certain types of professional services which are provided for a fee.  For example, when one pays for a physician’s medical services, is the physician a vendor?  Is an attorney a vendor of legal advice?  Is a psychologist a vendor of psychological advice?  Perhaps, technically speaking, the answer to these questions is “Yes,” however, the word vendor does not come close to describing the professional nature of the services provided by people with advanced degrees and expertise in their respective field.  As David points out, attorneys realize Magnus is not a vendor.  They almost always start our business relationship by calling me “Dr. Pigott,” revealing our mutual understanding of the fact that I am a provider of professional services who has considerable expertise for which they are willing to compensate me.  Just as an attorney is an expert in the law, I am an expert in psychology and its application to the law, in assessing the human dynamics of litigation.  The word “vendor,” while not particularly offensive in describing everything Magnus has to offer, is inappropriate in its failure to connote all of the expertise for which our clients retain us.  


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