Expert Witness Search: At The Center Of The Litigation Fray

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Steven M. Schott, Director of Business Development, Round Table Group, Inc.

Editor: Mr. Schott, please tell us something about your professional background.

Schott: I started out as a litigator and spent the first 15 years of my career trying cases in state and federal court. My practice focused primarily on business, corporate, commercial and real estate litigation. I was offered an opportunity to move in-house and spent six years managing commercial loan transactions and litigation at Textron Financial Corporation. A significant part of my focus at Textron was managing legal costs, working with outside counsel and third-party vendors in order to drive down legal expenses and become more efficient and cost-effective in managing litigation. I was subsequently recruited by a business client to join his management team at a national mortgage lender, where I managed sales and operations teams. Now, as Director of Business Development for Round Table Group, I have the opportunity to combine my diverse legal background and business experience to help lawyers find the best experts.

Editor: Speaking of which, can you give us an overview of Round Table Group and its services?

Schott: Round Table Group was started in 1994 by Chris Crone, Russ Rosenzweig and Robert Hull. They envisioned an opportunity to create a network of experts for lawyers, recognizing that the typical ad hoc approach to finding experts, such as cold calling, asking around the office, and relying on word of mouth, tends to make the process very time consuming, frustrating, and inefficient. Round Table Group's mission is to alleviate the stress of trying to find the right expert so lawyers can focus on preparing and winning their cases.

Initially, Round Table Group focused on building a network of academic and industry experts, and today that network includes more than 95,000 experts, including several Nobel Prize laureates and leading university department chairs. As the company grew, and as the demand for experts increased, Round Table Group transformed itself into an expert search company, hiring a professional team of attorneys and researchers to conduct customized global expert witness searches for lawyers. More recently, Round Table Group has developed a recruiting department to proactively expand our expert witness network by reaching out to experts in advance.

Editor: Can you describe the process through which Round Table Group locates and provides expert witness referrals to its clients?

Schott: It is important to first understand our case intake process. At Round Table Group, no two expert requests are alike, hence our customized approach based on the specific needs of each client. In addition to getting a general description of the matter and the area of expertise required, we ask our clients to describe their ideal expert. We then make it our mission to find and deliver that person.

Our researchers then commence a two-prong search process. This includes searching our proprietary network of experts and the use of rigorous search methods and tools to conduct a global search for experts who match the search parameters defined by the client. As the researchers begin receiving responses from expert candidates, they screen the responses and, after a short time (typically within two to four days), Round Table Group forwards the client a copy of each qualified candidate's CV, a brief statement from the expert in support of their candidacy, and the expert's billing rate. Once the client has had the opportunity to review each candidate's qualifications and supporting materials, we proactively solicit the client's feedback on each expert. If the client thinks a candidate meets their qualifications, we work with the client to schedule a personal interview with that expert. If, however, none of the candidates is satisfactory to the client, we continue looking for the ideal expert.

Once our client determines that we have located their ideal expert, we coordinate the hiring process and subsequently manage the billing. This customized approach ensures that we find and deliver the best experts to our clients within their required time frame.

Editor: What are the benefits to corporate counsel of outsourcing the expert witness search process?

Schott: The most tangible benefit is cost savings. If outside counsel searches for experts, there is a billable cost associated with that task. We do not charge a fee to find an expert. The only cost to our client is the expert's hourly rate if our client decides to retain an expert we refer. And because we handle the expert's administrative tasks, we are able to offer counsel a market rate for that expert's services. I should add that there is no obligation to hire any expert we find. This is a true pay-for-performance model.

The efficiency and effectiveness of our process represent additional benefits to corporate counsel. Our full-time researchers focus exclusively on finding expert witnesses for our clients, which means we can conduct a search much more efficiently and quickly than a lawyer or paralegal who must balance their search efforts with a multitude of other cases and responsibilities. And because we conduct a global search and are not constrained by time or resources, our search is much more effective in finding the best available expert.

Whether corporate counsel contacts us directly or insists that their outside firms take advantage of our complimentary search service, the bottom line is a reduction in legal expenses and more efficient and effective litigation support. Round Table Group's search service provides corporate counsel with assurance that they will have the right expert at the right time. Frankly, it's too late once the case is over to find out otherwise.

Editor: Obviously, one of the primary assets that the Round Table Group possesses is its database. Are there particular industries or industry sectors that receive special attention in the database?

Schott: Round Table Group has the ability to find the best experts in all fields and disciplines, and we do not limit our expertise or our network to any specific topic. While IP litigation has received a great deal of attention of late, we are getting requests for experts across a wide range of cases, including commercial litigation, insurance matters, real estate and corporate disputes, and negligence claims. Our clients range from solo practitioners to the largest international law firms, insurance companies, and Fortune 500 corporations. To give your readers some idea of the varied nature of our search requests, we recently handled a search for someone in need of an expert on mechanical card shuffling and another where expertise in gravestone carvings was required.

Editor: How has your business evolved in response to industry trends?

Schott: Our business has evolved with the changes in litigation and with the practice of law in general. There has been a tremendous increase in the need for high quality experts in all types of litigation. Also, the rapid pace of technological advancement has led to an increased demand for technical expertise in the areas of telecommunications, software engineering and all of the complicated issues that derive from the emergence of a digital world. Fortunately, our approach to finding experts has enabled us to meet this increased demand.

Another development is the speed with which the process now moves. Letter writing and faxes are tools of the past when it comes to finding experts. With the expansion of the Internet and improved communication tools what used to take weeks and even months to accomplish can now be accomplished in days and even hours. Round Table Group has evolved to meet this increased demand for speed and efficiency to ensure that we deliver the right expert at the right time.

As litigation becomes increasingly complex, with a corresponding increase in the demand for expert testimony, we have evolved to provide a critical litigation support function at the center of the fray. Our ability to quickly find experts in all fields and disciplines allows our clients to better prepare their cases and generate the results their clients demand.

Editor: What differentiates Round Table Group from other expert witness firms?

Schott: The core difference between Round Table Group and other expert witness firms is that we perform a customized search on every expert witness request we receive. We do not limit our clients to a specific roster of experts or niche practice. With a full-time research staff, we can commit time and resources to a custom search that other firms simply cannot match.

Another differentiating factor is that we are a general expert witness search firm with the ability to find and deliver an expert on any topic and in any field. Many of the expert witness firms limit their services to a particular area of law or specialty. Round Table Group's decision to be a general search service lets our clients know they can call on us to find any expert they need regardless of the type of case they are handling. Round Table Group has been a pioneer in this industry for over 14 years, developing research methodologies that allow us to locate the best experts on every topic.

A third critical difference is our pay for performance business model. As I mentioned, we do not charge for the search process. We get compensated only if we deliver an expert who meets the client's needs and only if that expert is hired. Since there is no charge for finding experts, it simply makes sense from a cost and efficiency standpoint to use Round Table Group for every expert search. Simply stated, Round Table Group will perform a customized search, pre-screen candidates to verify their qualifications, and coordinate interviews with qualified candidates, all at no charge. We like to say try us and then decide how our service measures up based on our results.

Round Table Group's core contribution to the litigation fray is our ability to align the interests of corporate counsel and their outside firms, enabling outside counsel to more effectively and efficiently find the right expert while providing in-house counsel with the benefit of significant cost savings and more predictability in legal expenses.

Editor: How can our readers obtain more information about Round Table Group and its expert witness referral service?

Schott: They can visit our website at www.roundtablegroup.com. In addition to providing a great deal of information, the website has a mechanism for submitting a request for an expert online. In addition, I am available at (214) 233-9470 and would be happy to respond to inquiries.

Please email the interviewee at sschott@roundtablegroup.com with questions about this interview.