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How many piano tuners are there really in Chicago?


The physicist and Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, creator of the first nuclear reactor, was the so-called ‘architect of the nuclear age’. But he’s probably more famous for his ability to estimate back-of-the-envelope calculations to tricky problems. One classic is a favourite among interviewers of eager young management consultants: ‘How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?’

Dispute lawyers grapple with their own Fermi-like problem when they tell us of their challenges to find certain types of experts in specific areas of upstream energy: ‘How many experts of “X” are available for my case?’ Attempting to fully understand their requirements, in 2019, we surveyed the main dispute resolution practices; some of you may remember taking part in it. The overall results were illuminating.

Unanimously, respondents told us quantum experts are easiest to find. No surprise, as there’s a direct and visible career route for quantity surveyors to become quantum experts. If you’re based in London, you certainly don’t need a ‘Fermi estimate’ to find some in your vicinity. Just take a stroll past the LCIA along Paternoster Lane and you’ll bump into a handful.

Thinner on the ground, it seems, are equipment, marine, and project management experts from the drilling and well-construction sectors, drilling rigs, and specialty vessels (heavy-lift barges, FPSOs, and the like). 80% of lawyers we surveyed said they spend more than 20 hours searching for expert candidates, with about half, finding the time they spend ‘difficult to quantify’ (code for ‘a lot of wasted time’).

Again, this is hardly surprising since there’s no clear career path to becoming an expert witness in these sectors. Most engineers only find out by chance that it’s even a thing. Disputes are generally after-the-fact and dealt with by external others leaving those with the knowledge, experience, talent, and potential unknown and beyond a legal team’s reach.

Compounding this dearth is the ideal candidate requirements. Most lawyers responded that they seek experts who ‘work well in a team’, ‘are flexible’, ‘have testified in the past at a tribunal/arbitration’, ‘don’t need too much training’, and are ‘able to write expert reports’.

“Don’t overlook the ‘good’ by endlessly searching for the ‘perfect’.”

All this only confirmed what we’d known long before. We’ve built our expert network and services by identifying those in the industry with the right knowledge, experience, talent, and potential. Then we support them with training and expert report writing until they can fly solo.

Our advice? Don’t overlook the most credible technical or industry experts by endlessly searching for what you believe are your optimal criteria for a single expert witness. Rest assured, we cover all these criteria with the support services built into our approach. So the team we field meets all your case’s needs.

Oh, and Fermi estimated that there were 225 piano tuners in Chicago, at a time when there were 290. Not bad for no prior knowledge. And he didn’t even need a quantum expert.


[Image credit: Markus Gjengaar, on]