By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Your doctor has an M.D., a license, and potentially board certifications as well. Your lawyer has a J.D., a license, and quite possibly other honors based on experience. The legal videographer recording your deposition likely will be certified for that work. Heck, even your plumber, your home siding installer, and your chimney sweep are likely to carry a credential speaking to their knowledge, training, and experience. But if you need a trial consultant for help with strategy, research, or jury selection, then you are on your own. For consultants in this field, there is no credential, no license, and no common or predictable educational track that has led them to their practice. Those who advise lawyers on the psychological and communication aspects of legal persuasion gain their skills in a variety of ways, but the professional organizations of that field have so far demurred on the question of creating a credential, a certification, or any other message to the larger community of litigators that would speak to the background, experience, reputation, or ethical commitments of trial consultants.
I say that not to criticize my field. There are reasons -- some of them good reasons -- why the question of professional credentials has been an especially vexing one for this relatively young field. For one thing, the backgrounds that bring people to consulting are dizzying in their variety. Many have experience in psychology, and many like myself have a broad focus on legal communication and persuasion. But for many others, their path runs through sociology, or drama, or law, or market research or business. This diversity is more often a strength than a weakness, and these myriad views all can contribute in helping litigators step outside a narrow legal framework and see their cases from a broader and more human point of view. But for consumers of litigation consulting services, the lack of a clear benchmark can be disconcerting. Surely, just as with doctors, lawyers, videographers, plumbers, and chimney sweeps, consumers of trial consultants look to other factors: their own experience and the referrals of those they trust. But some form of credential would be a good reassurance or starting point. Absent that or any other Angie's List for trial consultants, clients are left with one solution: Vet your trial consultant. This post will take a look at the consequences of a lack of credentialing, and share a number of questions that all clients should ask their prospective consultant.