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Legal Consultant Limelight: Michael Talve

It’s hard to argue with CEO Michael Talve‘s assessment that these are “very exciting” times for his company, The Expert Institute. The New York-based firm, which assists nationwide law firm clients on 1,000 cases each month, is growing in significant markets, including the West Coast, Texas and Canada. The Expert Institute provides carefully vetted experts for both plaintiff and defense firms, including those who may become witnesses during trials.

Talve is a born entrepreneur, who first got a taste of the business world while organizing ski trips as a teenager. Just 32, Talve seeks to develop longterm relationships that will keep law firms working with The Expert Institute for decades to come.

Lawdragon: Can you describe to our readers the services that The Expert Institute provides?

Michael Talve: The Expert Institute leverages data and technology to pair attorneys with the best qualified subject matter experts – for consultative support or formal designation, i.e., expert witnesses.

We also serve our clients in a more holistic capacity. Our staff includes twelve medical doctors as well as experienced general researchers who, oftentimes, can really help our clients hone in on the exact expertise needed for a given case, Q&A, preliminary review of case specific records and information. Our aim is to provide comprehensive support throughout every stage of a case.

Our firm has provided experts on dozens of nine-figure cases. We’re proud to support many of the nation’s leading trial lawyers.

LD: Is there a breakdown between experts provided with intent to give testimony versus those that are provided to assist with a case more generally?

MT: It varies by case type and firm; typically our clients engage us early on, often before cases are signed up, so they can “get smart” on an obscure topic or subject matter with which they lack familiarity. Speaking with a number of experts in a given field can substantially expedite the learning curve. Furthermore, a lot of these consulting experts become testifying experts if a case does not resolve.

We work diligently to educate our clients on the benefits of engaging the right expert early on – preparedness and the benefit of time often yields more desirable results.

LD: If possible, can you share some scale or numbers for size – perhaps total number of cases the firm might assist on at any given time, or number of experts provided?

MT: We work on more than 1,000 cases each month. Many of these cases require multiple experts across a variety of specialty areas. We typically turn these projects around in three to five business days, some faster, some slower, depending on the needs of our clients.

LD: Is there is any split between assisting with the plaintiff or defense side? Are there certain types of firms that tend to use your services more than others?

MT: We work with the premier plaintiff and defense firms nationwide; historically, we’ve been strong in mass torts, personal injury, medical malpractice and general liability, evidenced by the fact that we have more than 10 MDs on staff, full time, overseeing all medical research engagements.

We also have a team of more than 40 researchers across three offices – New York City headquarters, Dallas and Los Angeles – who are Ivy League educated, with backgrounds in a wide range of industries, from engineering to finance. These folks identify experts for attorneys in all practice areas – intellectual property, securities, white collar, all forms of commercial litigation, etc.

LD: What was missing from the market in this area – what issue are you helping to solve?

MT: It was evident that attorneys and firms had a need for procedural management of their expert witness retention activities. As an example, an expert search handled by a law firm internally might begin with one partner emailing all of his colleagues and law school buddies asking for a referral; an associate then runs a Google search, while a paralegal reads through industry literature.

As opposed to this ad hoc method, we take a holistic view of all available data: litigation and challenge history, past case outcomes, deposition transcripts, publications and lectures, board sanctions, malpractice claims, criminal records and more to determine which candidates are best qualified for a given case.

This ensures our clients are consistently matched with preeminent experts for all concerns, and our service has become relied upon by many of the most successful litigators in the country today.

LD: What is the technology or approach that has allowed the company to become so successful in matching experts with cases?

MT: We are meticulous with regards to our business-research processes and move quickly to improve these systems on a routine basis. Our approach to all aspects of the business, especially technology, is extremely detail oriented. There is no process that we do not consider impervious to refinement. We employ a variety of continuous improvement methods, whereby incremental enhancements are constant and ongoing. Every new development is measurable and repeatable in order to achieve real improvement.

Our technology aggregates data from hundreds of thousands of sources, including private and government databases, institutional directories, court filing systems, physician rating platforms, professional organizations, and many more. We’ve developed APIs (application programming interfaces) to access information on a live basis, as it would be impossible for any one attorney or firm to justify an investment like this for their own expert witness research efforts. We work with thousands of lawyers and this commitment to improving our technology and data has proven to be a wise fiscal decision.

LD: Also, with such a larger roster, can you discuss what the vetting process involves?

MT: Our vetting process includes a multitude of elements: background checks, references, past litigation history, board sanctions and malpractice claims, phone interviews, writing samples, trial and deposition transcripts, confirming credentials for validity, reviewing corporate affiliations, comparing individuals against their peers in a given field to ensure they’re industry thought leaders and much more. This compliance process has been developed over many years and is the most rigorous in the industry.

LD: Can you describe the staff a bit in terms of size, and what subject area expertise or skillset is featured?

MT: We have three offices across the country – New York City is our headquarters, we occupy the top two floors of the Bank of New York building on Wall Street. Alexander Hamilton signed the deed for this address, there’s a lot of history here. We have spectacular views of lower Manhattan and the boroughs, terraces wrap around the entire space. It’s unique, there are intimate spaces for private meetings, social gatherings, and client events.

Our research team, nearly 50 individuals between New York, Dallas and Los Angeles, makes up the largest portion of staff. These folks work hand in hand with our clients to ensure the perfect expert is matched on each engagement. They are very consultative in their approach and become fully integrated on each case they work on. More than 10 members of our research team are MDs, and they work closely with many of the top medical malpractice and pharmaceutical litigation attorneys nationwide.

Our business development and account management teams work closely with new and existing clients, they travel often and, in the first six months of 2017, had visited more than 100 cities across the U.S., from San Francisco to Seattle to Kansas City, to Nashville to Albuquerque. We make great efforts to visit with all of our clients, no matter how big or small. There’s a lot of value in developing meaningful, long lasting relationships and we view each client relationship as a 10-, 20-, or 30-year business opportunity – it’s a very longterm approach towards business development.

I’m fairly young, at 32, and I plan to expand this business for many years to come, it’s important for me to develop longterm relationships with the best attorneys and firms across the country.

In addition, there are a lot of family law firms out there – where a father and son or daughter work together, and we endeavor to support these clients for generations.

LD: When did you develop an entrepreneurial spirit or interest – where did that come from?

MT: I’ve been interested in business since I was a kid; I couldn’t start working soon enough. When I was 13- or 14-years old, I organized ski tours: I would rent a coach bus, book condos and hotels, get group rates for lifttickets, and sell ski weekend packages to kids at school. Since my parents didn’t ski, it was the only way I could go skiing.

In high school I worked for a mortgage company which grew to become one of the largest FHA (Federal Housing Administration) lenders in the country. I learned a lot about client relations and real estate.

Finally, in college, I was fortunate enough to get a job for a significant private equity firm, and had exposure to a number of very interesting businesses and investment opportunities.

LD: What brought you to Babson College, and what did you envision doing for a career when you were there?

MT: Babson was the only school I knew of where entrepreneurship was the core focus, and I was fairly certain I didn’t want to pursue a career in medicine or finance or any other specialized field since my interests were too varied, but the common theme had always been business.

I knew I’d want to start, run, or invest in businesses across different industries. I also recognized the importance of learning the fundamentals of accounting and finance, economics, marketing, and organizational development in order for me to succeed. Babson was great, without hesitation I’d recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing a career in business.

LD: What do you like about this type of work? What is professionally satisfying about working within the legal industry and court cases?

MT: This business is fascinating, we work with some of the most devoted and passionate professionals I have ever met. Every day the landscape of what we are working on changes. Right now, we are working on a case involving a major automobile manufacturer, a large global investment firm, cases involving significant pharmaceutical interests and consumer products, professional football players and more. It’s deeply rewarding to gain exposure to all of these industry sectors through the work that we do here.

We are exposed to so many incredible cases and our involvement is often critical to achieving the desired outcome. Our team realizes that the work we do is very, very important – and they treat each case as if it were their own.

When we work with a plaintiffs’ firm on a significant matter and the case resolves for $50 million, $100 million, $500 million or more, our team takes great pride in knowing that we have contributed to the success of our clients and the parties involved.

Our clients tend to be very entrepreneurial as well. They’re investing substantial sums of money, time and firm resources in cases. It’s not terribly different from traditional venture capital investing – you need to have a diverse portfolio of investments, or cases, to be successful as a trial lawyer. Sure you need a few home-run opportunities, but you also need a healthy docket of singles, doubles and triples to ensure the sustainability of a healthy, prosperous firm for the long term.

LD: Are there any plans for growth or change for your company in the year ahead?

MT: We are focused on expanding on the West Coast where we were recently voted the #1 Expert Witness Provider by The Recorder, which is California’s most important legal publication, as well as Texas, where we recently opened a new office. Our team travels to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, and all of the major metro areas up and down the coast on a regular basis.

We’re also expanding quickly in Canada, where in the past six months our team has spent several weeks visiting with firms in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver. It’s a great market opportunity, and we will grow by more than 500% in Canada this year. It’s a very exciting time for The Expert Institute.

LD: Is there a big-picture trend where you see companies in your space moving?

MT: We think of ourselves as problem solvers. On the one hand, our core deliverable has always been providing expert witnesses to litigators for formal retention or designation purposes.

However, our most successful clients – the law firms you read about in the news that win hundreds of millions of dollars, or billions of dollars on landmark cases – engage us far earlier on. They want to know everything there is to know about a case before getting involved, it allows them to quickly identify the cases they shouldn’t waste time with and helps build conviction around the cases deserving of their time, energy, and resources so they can go all in and win big.

I expect we’ll see more and more firms work with us in this way, engaging our team sooner than they would have anticipated hiring experts, because if history’s an indicator, this yields better outcomes. It’s a function of preparedness and strategic planning.

We’ve been very fortunate to work with many of the most successful trial lawyers in America – some of our clients are legends in their own right – young lawyers would kill for the opportunity to work alongside these folks. Although these lawyers and firms can be very demanding, it is a privilege to serve them.