About the Author
Roy Leggitt is a very highly credentialed plant and tree specialist based in San Francisco who has substantial forensic experience. An author, educator and public speaker, he has earned the admiration of both clients and peers.
I address this to those of you who think forensic consulting is easy money.
As a Consulting Arborist, I come across contractors in tree service and landscaping who have become frustrated with the challenges they face as small business owners. They are tired of hustling-up work for their crews, keeping equipment repaired and keeping up with run-away regulations. Many have worked their way up the ranks and have taken considerable financial risk in a high-overhead business only to feel that they’re working for their employees. Their personal time is swallowed by the needs of their business. As they consider what I do, some go on about how easy consulting work must be and how they are planning to become consultants too.
My response is cautionary, because I’ve learned that my time commitments as a consultant are every bit as challenging, and that the stress is often greater on my side of the fence.
Though the attorneys who hire me often say, “don’t worry about this one, it will never go to court,” many cases do find their way to the courthouse. Even those lawyers who settle matters on the courthouse steps expect me to be prepared for a vicious cross-examination. To be ready to take the stand as an expert witness is a huge time commitment and requires lots of preparation.
A typical engagement starts in a low-pressure sort of way, with a couple phone calls, a site visit or two and a written report. As time goes on, there may be a little on-and-off reading. The time requirements aren’t too intense and schedules have some flexibility.
As my deposition nears, the schedule is far less in my control and preparation takes serious time. I know that when the day comes for testifying, the hiring attorney will expect me to be brilliant, to intimidate the opposition with mastery of the facts and my incisive analysis, and to be able to anticipate the most insidious lines of questioning. Talk about performance anxiety!
What about those assertions about the case settling? Maybe the more polarized both sides are, the less likely they will settle. So beware of certainty in the realm of compromise. When a settlement doesn’t pan out things really heat up. As the trial date looms, I think about how easy those college all-nighters were. The preparation can go on for days with hundreds of pages of reading. As the day of reckoning approaches, tension builds as everyone prepares for all-out intellectual combat.
So, dear colleagues, as you dream of being an Expert Witness as an easy way to escape hard work, think hard about what it means to take on these obligations. Whatever stress you felt as a business owner is like a walk in the park, and you’ve got to get real about what it means to enter a profession where the minimum standard is perfection, there is no forgiveness and no room for remorse.