Searching for anyone or anything in the digital era often depends not on who you seek or where you look, but on how you ask. Specifically, finding what you are looking for depends on how well you phrase your request.
The importance of key words and key phrases holds true whether you’re seeking the text of a local evidence rule or a flesh-and-blood expert witness who can help elucidate certain essential technical points in your case. Here’s what you need to know about finding the expert witnesses you need – and about crafting the key phrases you’ll need to find them.
What Is a Key Phrase?
A key phrase is a string of two or more words that tell a search engine where to focus: on items that contain that particular string of words. (Similarly, a “keyword” is a single word that accomplishes the same task.)
Key words and phrases have long been a stable of the library sciences, where vast amounts of information are categorized under a complex but well-organized system of subject words and phrases. In the digital era, key word and key phrase searching has become messier, as competing search engines seek to develop their own best practices for key phrase analysis and deployment.
Finding Key Words and Phrases
It’s tough to find who you need if you don’t know who to look for. Here are some of the most common sources of key phrases that will help you narrow down your search for a qualified expert witness:
- Your own case file. Start with the information you have on the case. As you read, make a list of words and phrases that appear repeatedly. For instance, in a particular medical malpractice case, you may run into words for medical specialties (anesthesiology, obstetrics), acronyms for persons or procedures (CRNA, D&E), or terms for equipment (morcellator). While some of these terms will be very specific, they can also point you in the direction of experts who can pinpoint these issues in your case.
- Library databases. Searching for the primary terms in your collection in a college or university library database can help you find highly specific, technical sources – and better still, their authors and publication dates. These searches can also connect you to related key words and phrases. If accessing a college or university is onerous, try Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com) or WorldCat (http://www.worldcat.org).
- Other sources. Depending on the topic, sources like Gale’s Biographies, the Physician’s Desk Reference, Standard & Poor’s, ThomasNet industrial buying guides, or even the Oxford English Dictionary can suggest additional key words and phrases.
Narrow down your list to 5-7 key phrases of varying specificity. Also, be prepared to try them in various combinations. “Expert witness” will return a much broader field than “immunology expert witness,” for example.
Putting Your Key Phrases to Work
Search engines are the “first stop” for a wide range of searches, and while they can help you find expert witnesses, they have their limits. Improve your search engine results by going immediately to the “advanced” options, where you can search for exact phrases, limit results to certain types of files or pages (such as PDF files only, or .edu pages only), and take other steps to focus your search.
Return to the library databases with your key words and phrases in hand to perform another search, this time paying close attention to authors and dates. Many library databases will automatically connect you to all works by a particular author. A reference librarian can be an invaluable ally in this search.
Expert witness directories can also help you find the right expert in less time. Many local bar associations maintain local expert witness directories, which can be useful if time or cost are of the essence or if your case involves a feature or event that is location-specific. Many large online legal directories, like Martindale-Hubbell and FindLaw, maintain expert directories as well – although, as with any Internet search, you’ll need to closely tailor your search terms and take advantage of any advanced search features to optimize your results. Databases like the JurisPro Expert Witness Directory are built by practicing lawyers and can provide additional options.
Finally, never overlook the power of an expert witness service. When you contact an organization that specializes in cultivating relationships with qualified experts, you gain access to a well-curated network with the potential to save you considerable time, money, and effort. Prepare your key phrases in advance to help your contact at the expert witness service find qualified experts more quickly.