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As an Attorney, What Should I Look For in a Forensic Neuropsychologist Expert?

In court, one of the first issues that will be addressed is the forensic neuropsychologist expert’s credentials.  Testimony or evaluation provided by an unqualified individual may be unhelpful, at best, to the judge and jury.  Do not miss these critical considerations:

  • Ensure that the individual you are hiring is truly a neuropsychologist. Unfortunately the term “neuropsychologist” is not always well regulated.  Nearly any psychologist can call himself or herself a neuropsychologist without much scrutiny on the part of a licensure board.  However, the skill sets of a general clinical psychologist who has NOT had extensive training in neuropsychology can be very different from those of a clinical neuropsychologist who has.  One cannot be licensed as a “neuropsychologist” but is rather licensed as a clinical psychologist.  The best way to ensure that the individual has had the proper training and that their training has been sufficient in neuropsychology is to select an individual who is board certified in clinical neuropsychology!  Let those in the field of clinical neuropsychology do the work for you!
  • Strongly consider selection of an individual who has obtained board certification in clinical neuropsychology if this is a neuropsychological assessment case. Individuals who are board certified in forensic psychology alone may or may not have training in neuropsychological assessment.  However, individuals who are board certified in clinical neuropsychology have undergone extensive peer review and should have an excellent understanding of the standard of practice and the research literature pertaining to the case which they have accepted.  Please note that there are different boarding organizations for neuropsychology.  The American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology is a specialty board of the American Board of Professional Psychology and is highly regarded and widely regarded as highly selective.  Their boarding process parallels that of the board certification process for medical doctors.  Further information is available regarding this board:  http://www.abpp.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3405
  • Board certification in forensic psychology may also be beneficial.
  • Active clinical psychologist licensure in the state in which your client is located or will be evaluated. You can obtain this information in most cases by googling the psychology licensure board in that state.  Click on the psychologist’s name and determine whether there is a history of disciplinary action or complaints involving that individual.  For example, in North Carolina you can access the following link:  https://www.ncpsychologyboard.org/search.htm
  • Public speaking skills. Psychologists do not necessarily do extensive public speaking as part of their daily practice.  Find an individual who has done extensive public speaking.
  • Report writing skills. The reports tends to be the “product” in neuropsychological assessment.  Turnaround time for reports is an important line of inquiry (“how long will it take for you to complete the evaluation and get the report back to me?” is an important question).
  • Scientific approach. Forensic neuropsychologist experts who take a scientific approach to their work can be invaluable in the courtroom.  It is important for these individuals to be able to cite their sources in terms of conclusions drawn.  Because the research literature is rapidly changing in certain areas (e.g., malingering/symptom validity testing, mild traumatic brain injury), ask your prospective neuropsychologist expert what continuing education they have done in the past year to keep abreast of the research literature.  Experts should be regularly attending the big yearly conferences where research updates are provided, such as the American Academy of Neuropsychology annual meeting, the National Academy of Neuropsychology meeting, and the International Neuropsychological Society meeting.  Experts should be reading elite journals in the field (e.g., The Clinical Neuropsychologist; Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society).  Presenting at or publishing in these meetings and journals is a bonus, as is ongoing activity in and contributions to the above academies and organizations.
  • Observe whether the neuropsychologist dresses and conducts himself or herself professionally in meetings with you.  This will translate to courtroom behavior.  Ensure you meet this person by Skype or in person before employing the expert.
  • Willingness to meet with attorney outside of the expert’s office (e.g., at your office).
  • Ongoing completion of clinical cases is helpful, both in terms of maintaining credentials as well maintaining objectivity. Identify whether the expert has hospital privileges or a teaching appointment at a local university.  These can be indicators of credibility and peer review approval.

About the author.  Dr. Messler is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist who has provided thousands of evaluations where the question of traumatic brain injury and symptom validity were raised.  She has also served as expert consultant and witness.  She believes it is critical to provide a scientifically defensible opinion, and to help the jury and court understand the implications of the neuropsychological aspects of cases before them.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Messler is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and licensed psychologist who has provided thousands of evaluations where the question of traumatic brain injury was raised. She has also served as expert consultant and witness. She believes it is critical to provide an objective, scientifically defensible opinion, and to help the jury and court understand the implications of the neuropsychological aspects of cases before them. As a prior active duty neuropsychologist, she has extensive experience in the area of military forensic neuropsychology.