Experts/consultants are often needed to answer questions, preserve evidence, and guide recovery efforts during an investigation. Many questions can surface when working with experts, including: how do you pick the right expert? What should they do? What could go wrong?
There is much to say, so this will be a multi-part affair. Let’s take the last question first: What could go wrong? A lot can go wrong when working with an expert. Let’s look at a few possible scenarios.
The worst case scenario may be that you build a lawsuit around an expert’s opinion, take the case to trial, and he is disqualified by the judge because he wasn’t actually an expert at all. You’re heavily invested in a case and have to proceed without an expert opinion. This is a catastrophe, but is mercifully uncommon.
The next worst case scenario may be that your expert mishandles or loses evidence, like the guy I “heard about” who packed up a widget from a fire scene into a used cardboard box from Amazon and left it on a receptionist’s desk. Thinking it was outgoing mail, UPS picked up the box and delivered it to Aunt Mable who received her value pack of unbleached coffee filters a month ago (Free Shipping!) and couldn’t figure out why Amazon was now sending her a hunk of burned plastic. (He supposedly got the evidence back, by the way.)
The next common scenario is an expert who gives you bad advice on what to do at the outset of an investigation. This includes preserving the wrong evidence, discarding the right evidence, or losing the whole scene to a cleanup crew. Everyone has seen it happen.
Most common of all is an expert who forms an opinion which later turns out to be unsupported by the facts. This often is caused by the expert’s incomplete investigation, and may force you to abandon a case because it doesn’t have the merit that you thought.
Everyone has cases that fizzle out, but you need the bad news early in the process, not late. Getting it early means you close the file and move onto the next one. Getting it late means you have explaining to do.
When you get right down to it, an expert’s job is to sort out the facts and help you make the right decisions, and then make sure that the facts (i.e. evidence) doesn’t get lost along the way. As this short list of short stories illustrates, a lot can go wrong when you rely on the expertise of another. Make sure to look for next week’s blog post, “Experts and Consultants – What should they do?”
After my last blog post on notice letters to potentially adverse parties, there was some good feedback from readers and a couple of interesting conversations ensued. Hoping for the same, please email to me your favorite expert story. Keep it brief; winner gets a free pen, no limit on entries as long as they are entertaining. As above, no names will be used.