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Interview with John F. Berg, Vocational Rehabilitation and Litigation Consultant

Based in Washington State, John F. Berg is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), Board Certified Vocational Expert, and Certified Disability Manager. He founded a vocational counseling and litigation consultancy in 1985 and now works as a solo litigation expert. He has also previously held positions as a career advisor at a state community college and in outpatient mental health services before moving to the private sector of vocational rehabilitation in 1981.

1. Many of our readers are familiar with vocational and rehabilitation counseling, but might not be aware of the field of vocational consulting and litigation. Can you walk us through what you do?

john-bergWe are engaged by attorneys, and sometimes via insurance companies, to evaluate several issues that may be challenged in a court proceeding. Also, our work can be in an administrative hearing, mediation to settle a claim for damages (lost wages, benefits, or total disability), State or Superior Court, and Federal Courts. Business is not available for a new counselor, they normally require several years minimum experience, master’s as an entry point, and one or more national credentials (like Certified Disability Management Specialist (CDMS), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), ABVE-American Board of Vocational Experts/Board Certified Vocational Expert, etc.). We first obtain records to review including medical reports, exams, diagnostics, psych., injury/accident reports, interrogatories (a Q & A on facts where each side asks formally in “discovery” of evidence). After review, a clinical interview assuming they are alive (we do wrongful death claims, too). Age, education, work history, transferable skills assessment, mental-measurement testing as appropriate, research on the labor market, wage and benefit studies, then a WRITTEN report that is used in court. One must work on your WRITING skills! It is key evidence or an exhibit so each side can ask pointed questions at deposition or trials. The opinions normally are: can they work? What occupations? What wages or benefits are available? Do jobs actually exist in the region where they live? Often I do the economic calculations to show financial loss due to alleged injury(s).

2. Can you explain to us the educational path you took to get where you are today?

BA Psych/Social Work, Master of Education: Guidance Counseling, and an internship under PhD Psych. for testing. Then post-graduate studies in economics and methods acceptable in court to estimate the loss of wages or earning power. I have credentials as a Certified Disability Management Specialist (CDMS), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), Board Certified (American Board of Vocational Experts, or ABVE), and International Psychometric Evaluation Certification (IPEC).

3. What do you consider the toughest aspect of this job?

Testimony was difficult initially, but I got over the pressure of two attorneys asking pointed questions, one who wants your opinions to appear poorly developed.

Operating a small business. Marketing, collection of fees, and last, developing what I think are good technical writing skills acceptable to legal proceedings.

4. You launched your own practice, Vocational Consulting, Inc., in 1985. What advice do you have for those who are considering launching their own private practice?

Get about four years of experience and an MA/MS/MED or even PhD. Obtain at least one or two national credentials. Volunteer with professional organizations like the International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (IARP) or American Board of Vocational Experts (ABVE). Develop presentations on topics you’re good at and want to share. Get into leadership positions – it builds your skills, CV, and appears good to a jury. Build your resume (CV – Curriculum Vitae). If you feel tense in presentations or testimony, take courses from Toastmasters (free) with 332,000 members! Public speaking is where the rubber meets the road. Get good at it!

5. What does your average day look like?

I’m 68 years old with almost 43 years of experience. I am half to three-quarters time but had 23 employees and three offices once. Now I’m solo and only do litigation cases. I work when I want and the hours or days that I chose.

It is Christmas Eve but I want to write a report that is about 12 pages long with 20-25 pages of attachments. I like writing so why not today? There is no “average day” now, but I used to work 70+ hours per week.

Case review, consultations on the phone or in-person, research, billing, writing reports or job analysis, labor market data collection, meetings with “Evaluees” (a professional term you may think is odd). No “CLIENT” exists in a forensic relationship as opposed to those a VRC may work with over time.

6. From what you have seen, what degrees and certifications are most in-demand and/or competitive in your field?

See previous answers: Certified Disability Management Specialist (CDMS), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC), Board Certified (American Board of Vocational Experts, or ABVE), and International Psychometric Evaluation Certification (IPEC).

7. What are one or two guidelines you would offer the counseling professional who is just entering the field?

Get experience (three to four years+) and have a MENTOR (MA + CRC minimum) to teach you and oversee your work products. For the CRC you have to have proof of one year [of work experience] before testing anyway. Forensic work is an interesting field combining legal, vocational, economics, psychology, and sociology.

Thank you to John for taking the time to answer our questions! You can read more about his professional practice and experience on his website, Vocational Consulting Inc..