Who Is An Expert?

Ms. Faye Riva Cohen
July 27, 2012 — 900 views  

Some weeks ago a man had a consultation with me concerning his issue which involved dealings with a federal government agency which investigates discrimination in housing. My extensive experience and background in civil rights law, dealing with numerous federal government agencies, and real estate, are outlined on our Firm’s website.  However, the person decided he wanted to have another consultation with someone who was an “expert” on his issue, and he had been provided that person’s number by a friend.

This experience got me thinking about what constitutes “expert” status.  The media (print, television, radio, the Internet and various social media like Linked In) provide us with self-serving testimony by persons who want us to do business with them, and state they are experts in certain fields.  If one is a bus passenger or finds oneself alongside or behind a bus, one can view large photos of lawyers who proclaim that they are experts in certain fields of law. If one listens to the major local radio news station, one can hear about doctors who work at medical facilities who are experts in joint replacement surgery. If one views television station news and morning broadcasts one will see many self-proclaimed experts in all sorts of fields like beauty, fashion, food, gardening, decorating, politics, etc. Some of these self-proclaimed experts appear to be barely out of college.

So, I have come to the opinion that anyone can declare him/herself an “expert” these days, as there really isn’t a guideline or a requirement for that designation.  Some of my recent experiences with legal experts are as follows:

  • A fellow lawyer who practices worker’s compensation law, and is a sole practitioner, told me that he inherited a case from another law firm, one of the largest in the area, who had settled part of the case for the client, and forgot to include language which ultimately cost the client over $30,000 in benefits.  Yet the larger firm is considered to have “expert” status.
  • Some lawyers I know have been called as guest commentators on television news shows because they have declared themselves experts on real estate or other areas of the law, when their practical experience regarding these areas is quite minimal.
  • Some of the most prominent personal injury firms in the area readily declare themselves experts because they have tried and won or settled 1 or 2 cases on a particular issue.
  • A lawyer who knew nothing about a certain area of the law, and I know this because he called me to pick my brain about the matter, accepted a high profile case and got his name and his client’s name splashed all over the media. The end result did not turn out well for the client.

It is highly unlikely in the legal field that lawyers will sue the same defendant over the same fact circumstances, unless it is a highly specialized area of the law.  Although lawyers may encounter some similarities in their cases, there are many variables which enter into each case.  So, take the designation of someone who is a self-proclaimed expert with a grain of salt, because these days self-promotion is the rule. Also, bear in mind that an expert may not have experience in other areas of the law which may impact on the particular fact situation.

Ms. Faye Riva Cohen

Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C.

I am Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and am a Philadelphia attorney who has been practicing law since 1974. I am the president and managing attorney of both the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and Legal Research, Inc.