Stop Litigation Expert Abuse

In an episode of the TV series The Sopranos, Carmela Soprano discovers that she is unable to retain a competent lawyer for her divorce proceedings, apparently due to her husband Tony having contacted a number of them in advance, ostensibly for advice on unrelated matters. In so doing, Tony deviously “polluted the attorneys” by creating a conflict of interest for them.

It would seem that some law firms may be incorporating this questionable practice into their strategy of obtaining subject matter experts and expert witnesses for high-profile litigation. Apparently, their strategy involves interviewing a large number of known experts, through a broker, requiring the candidates to agree to non-disclosure during the initial email contacts, and then rejecting them as candidates, often cutting off all further communications.

By doing this, the experts are then precluded from being retained by the opposing party, due to a “restrictive covenant” in the original email communication, with no confidential information having been exchanged, and with no compensation for their acquiescence.¬† Essentially, the expert has provided value to the broker and law firm (exclusivity), in return for nothing.

I can describe my own experience in these matters. I was approached to consult as a subject matter expert for a number of very-high profile cases, and each time, I was directed to agree to a “confidentiality agreement” before I was interviewed for suitability. Objectively, it appeared that I was one of very few people who was an extremely good match to a very specific — and narrow — set of experience requirements. Nonetheless, I was rejected, after responding to an email containing a restrictive covenant, with no further communication at all.

Lest the reader conclude that I simply was rejected as non-qualified, I can point to the fact that, in several instances, all communication ceased after I solicited a sample NDA, without having mentioned compensation or any other conditions.  It would seem there is something unreasonable going on here.

The solution to expert-pool contamination requires a willingness by all parties to accept responsibility.

  • Experts: When considering retention as a subject matter expert, insist on a written NDA, and consider one whose execution requires an initial non-refundable retention payment to you (you can always apply it to the initial consulting time, if retained). Be sure to scrutinize the language of the initial contact emails, and specifically disagree with any language that requires confidentiality without a formal agreement.
  • Law firms: First of all, refrain from this behavior, which is at best unethical. Considering the fact that you may be on the losing end of such a situation, it’s in the best interest of the profession as a whole to avoid a “mutually assured destruction” mindset.¬† Look to include, rather than exclude, talent.¬† It’s not too expensive to build a contingent of experts on a retainer, so that you can pick and choose the right one as needed; plus, it’s insurance against illness and other contingencies. Employers customarily reimburse candidates for travel expenses to a job interview, so it should not be considered unusual to compensate an expert at the very least for a telephone (or in-person) interview, especially if it’s in return for exclusivity.
  • Brokers:¬† Your biggest asset is your talent base — don’t blow it by agreeing to a shady practice that will eventually hurt you.¬† Don’t forget, you need a good supply as much as you need an ongoing demand.

–agc

More about …

Prior to his DTV work, Aldo developed various audio, content delivery and broadcast technologies at CBS Laboratories. He was also Chief Engineer at WKCR-FM and a broadcast engineer at WABC and WPLJ, all in New York City.  

Aldo received his BS and MS degrees from Columbia University, is an inventor on fourteen issued patents in the fields of digital television, audio, and broadcasting, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Advanced Television Technology Center.

A speaker at various industry conferences, he is the author of numerous technical papers and industry reports, including chapters in the 10th and 11th editions of the NAB Engineering Handbook, and has been a regular contributor to several trade publications.

A joint recipient of a 1997¬†Engineering Emmy¬ģ¬†statuette and R&D Magazine‚Äôs 1998¬†R&D 100 Award¬†(both on behalf of Philips), Aldo is listed in¬†Who‚Äôs Who in America, and is an inductee of the¬†Academy of Digital Television Pioneers. He is a Senior Member of¬†IEEE, with memberships in its¬†Broadcast Technology Society and¬†Society on Social Implications of Technology.

He is also an active member of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) and the¬†Consultants’ Network of Northern New Jersey¬†(CNNNJ), and has been a member of the¬†American Association for the Advancement of Science¬†(AAAS) and the¬†Audio Engineering Society¬†(AES). ¬†In academia, Aldo has served as Adjunct Professor of¬†Engineering Technology and Engineering Science at the¬†County College of Morris in New Jersey.

Aldo holds FCC Commercial General (formerly First Class) Radiotelephone and Amateur General Radiotelephone (W2AGC) Operator’s licenses. He is an inductee of the Eta Kappa Nu honor society, and was a top finalist in the IEEE-USA Congressional Fellowship and New America TechCongress Congressional Innovation Fellowship programs.  His volunteer efforts include particpating in the Catchafire initiative, being a mentor and judge with the NSTEP TechXplore program to advance STEM education in America’s classrooms, providing stage lighting design and production for local schools, and as an adjunct musician for various youth and non-profit orchestras.

Aldo CugniniIn his spare time, Aldo has been an avid timpanist with the Hanover Wind Symphony and the South Orange Symphony Orchestra, and now performs with several groups in Frederick, Maryland. As a semi-professional musician, he has performed music by composers ranging from Beethoven and Mahler to Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass, in venues that have included Carnegie Hall and the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, New Jersey. His other interests include astronomy, radio-controlled helicopters, ham radio, and writing for Wikipedia and the occasional blog. He maintains memberships in the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).


A Rich Heritage — and a Debt of Gratitude

Aldo Cugnini has worked with and studied under several widely-respected authorities in their fields.  He has benefited greatly by having known them and others:

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Patents

We have helped both large and small intellectual property owners in the areas of patent development, license execution, and assertion.

Aldo has served as a subject matter expert in dozens of cases, and has written numerous expert reports. He directly supported two patent infringement cases that went to trial; both were settled in favor of his client.

Our capabilities include reverse engineering, claims chart construction, patent prosecution, expert reports, and expert witness testimony.  With our involvement, clients have generated 8 figures of revenue from their patents.

AGC President Aldo Cugnini is an inventor on 14 granted and 3 pending patents.