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Too frequently an attorney will begin to seek a potential expert witness only after having done considerable initial work. Often there is a last minute rush to locate and select specialized technical assistance. These approaches can have expensive consequences. Alternatively, securing a suitable expert early in the litigation process offers the following advantages for the retaining attorney:

-The expert may allow avoidance of dead ends, i.e., cases that depend on poor science or technical practices,

-The expert likely can provide a realistic assessment of the engineering strengths and weakness of your case versus those of the opposition's before the firm expends significant resources,

-During the early stages of discovery, the expert will likely be able to provide useful input on specific information for you to use in interrogatories, in requests for production of documents and, later, in depositions,

-It allows identification and prevention of spoilage of critical, but not obvious, physical evidence that the expert is best prepared to forecast,

-It permits confirming the availability and effective use of a specific, high-demand expert that may be needed for a complex or lucrative case,

-It allows identifying and retaining a qualified expert that is geographically nearby in order to save on time and travel expenses for the client,

-For plaintiff attorneys' cases in which a jury trial is most desirable for the client, the early participation of the expert allows him or her to enhance existing points or suggest new technical arguments for the case and avoid a directed verdict or, alternatively, to suggest a settlement as the best approach.

Another idea - especially for firms that often handle complex cases that require different types of expert witnesses - is to identify someone to act in an on-call basis as a litigation consultant. That person should be a "general practitioner " engineer or scientist that can provide initial, technical guidance for the law firm. He or she will be sufficiently knowledgeable to give recommendations on the particular type of expert or areas of investigations that will be needed in different cases. This can best be done when a potential case is being assessed. In some situations this on-call person may be able himself to perform as the required expert witness. Registered nurses are often used in this role with law firms that handle many medical malpractice cases. It might well be that a "generalist" engineer could similarly be useful for firms that often complete product liability or personal injury cases involving physical components and equipment.

What type engineer would be most effective as a "generalist" for this function? I believe an individual from either of two engineering disciplines with particular experience would be the best. These are chemical or mechanical engineering.

The chemical engineer will know his or her own diverse subject areas but also all aspects of chemistry, many aspects of biology plus the use of polymeric (plastic) materials. Mechanical engineering is also a diverse disciple and besides his own areas the mechanical engineer likely can advise on some electrical subjects, certain civil engineering areas and appliactions of different metallic materials. Both types of engineers likely will have knowledge of industrial safety standards & practices such as the OSHA regulations.

The other important aspect of a good generalist, in my option, is that he or she should have a combination of academic experience beyond their undergraduate degree and practical engineering experience in a variety of profit-making organizations. Obviously, each of these two environments provides a unique perspective and this serves to give the individual broader exposure so that he or she can better assist the retaining law firm.

Gerald O. Davis, PE, President and co-owner of DM&ME, has over 40 years experience in Materials Engineering and Business. Mr. Davis is a Forensic Expert in Materials Usage, Corrosion, Metallurgy, Mechanical Failure, & Root-Cause Failure Analysis. His recent background includes work as a corrosion researcher, senior engineer, and program manager for Battelle Memorial Institute, DNV, Inc., Henkels & McCoy, Inc., respectively and, since 2004, as president of DM&ME.

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