It’s no secret that making a living as a neurologist has become a growing challenge in recent years. And even neurologists who are happy with their income enjoy a little variety in the form of intellectual challenge mixed into their work. If this describes you, legal consulting can be a lucrative addition to your medical practice. But it isn’t a fit for everyone.
What Is Legal Consulting?
Most people think of the expert witness when they hear this term. They imagine the Ivy League MD, PhD with obscure physiological knowledge that blows a case wide open on an episode of Law & Order. Or maybe they think of the bought-and-paid-for former physician with a disciplinary record. These caricatures make good TV, but testifying in a trial is only one small component of what legal consulting entails.
Most cases—criminal or civil—don’t actually make it to trial. That’s because so much of the work is done before it ever gets that far. Instead, an attorney might hire a legal consultant to
- Determine if there is actually a claim to be made before they agree to take a case,
- Form an opinion on the case, or
- Write up a report to be used in attempts to settle before trial.
And if all that legwork fails to produce a settlement, then the consultant may be asked to testify at a deposition or trial.
Who Is Qualified to be a Legal Consultant or Expert Witness?
A law firm can hire anyone they please to do internal consulting, but the Federal Rules of Evidence govern who may be accepted as an expert witness and how they must perform this duty. The relevant rule is Rule 702, which states:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
- The expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
- The testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
- The testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
- The expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
While few would argue that a practicing neurologist fails to clear the knowledge, experience, or education hurdle for cases relating to the specialty, the other points are more open to interpretation.
The 1993 Supreme Court Case, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, tightened the control of expert testimony. It put the weight of determining admissibility of an expert’s testimony on judges. The judge in any given case is the final arbiter on whether the requirements under Rule 702 have been met.
In addition to the legal qualifications, there are other attributes that make a strong legal consultant. Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal, are important for a legal consultant. A legal consultant must be able to communicate clearly and succinctly to those who may have no knowledge of neurology or medicine. This means translating complex and challenging material into the simplest possible terms. It isn’t always an easy task.
In addition, a legal consultant must be able to wade through lots of irrelevant data to find the pieces that affect the case. Most physicians perform this task daily with their patients.
Finally, they must not shy away from confrontation. They should be able to look at an argument from multiple sides. And they should be good at articulating—and defending—their opinion.
How Does a Legal Consultant Get Paid?
A consultant must get hired to get paid. The first step is a strong web presence. It will help to have a very specialized niche. Neurology is very broad, but if you can highlight your expertise in a couple of narrower aspects of the specialty, you can become the go-to person for those types of legal issues. In addition, networking is one of the best ways of getting your name out there.
The nice thing about legal consulting is that you set your price—Medicare and insurance companies have no say in the matter. The legal firm engaging you will pay your fees.
In addition, the firm engaging you should pay for any related expenses you incur, such as travel and lodging, as well as things like shipping and copying.
Most neurologists have chosen their field because they are fascinated with the nervous system and want to care for people with neurological disorders. Your practice may give you all the satisfaction and all the income you need. But if you are looking to add a bit of variety or a little side income, legal consulting might be a good choice for you.