Building the World’s Largest Expert Witness Search Firm

Building the World’s Largest Expert Witness Search Firm

By Dinesh Ganesarajah

Russ W. Rosenzweig is best known for founding Round Table Group, the world’s largest expert witness search and referral firm. Starting the firm in 1994, he grew revenues from $0 to $15M, by the time of the company’s 8-figure acquisition in 2010. Round Table Group’s client base included 100% of the AmLaw 100 law firm. Round Table Group was also elected an unprecedented 6 times in the Inc. Magazine 500/5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the US.

Mr. Rosenzweig’s latest project is 86 Pillars, an executive education firm that provides customized workshops and advisory services from leading professors in science, technology, business and law. We interviewed Mr. Rosenzweig to learn more about his story.

What led you to start your first company, Round Table Group?

Out of college, I worked in consulting. Consulting firms were charging clients $200 to $500 per hour for me. They were paying me $33k/year [in 1993]. It was thrilling, but my first reaction was laughter, “Who would pay that much for me?!” They do have great training programs, but I was only one year out of college, “How could they be charging so much for me?”

There were 50,000 people like me – 1 year out of graduation – at this firm. There were also a lot of consulting firms. It was shocking that clients would pay that much for novice talent.

I was also very close to my professors at Northwestern and later at University of Chicago, where I did my MBA. I had transformative experiences with these professors. In my judgement, these were the experts worth $200 to $500 per hour. I thought, “Why can’t we create the first consulting firm where the experts are the world’s most specialized talent? i.e. People who have spent a lifetime studying particular topics.”

How did you build your expert network?

In 1993, email was not mainstream. But at this time, professors and the military used email. I put together an email database of professors’ email addresses. It contained thousands of professors. With a few friends, I drafted a simple email message. It simply said to the professors, ‘We’ll try our best to introduce you to interesting consulting projects as complement to your teaching and research. Would you be OK with me calling you from time to time about these? I got an overwhelming positive response. There was no downside for them. Many of them, also said, “I’ve CC’d my friends and attached my CV”.’ 20 years ago this was novel. No one was doing this. Within 18 months we had 10,000 professors.

How did you identify your target customers?

We started getting a big head. If all the professors love it, we’ll become mega zillionaires. All three of us quit our jobs. We had a dinner to celebrate. During that dinner, one of us asked, “Who would be interested in hiring specialized PhDs?” We had the supply side, but we did not have anyone who needed any experts.

We thought about how we could reach one million business leaders in one go. We decided to put an ad in the Wall Street Journal. The day the ad ran, we sat waiting for the calls to come in. At lunchtime, the magical call came from a client who needed an anti-trust telecoms specialist with a lot of particulars. He was a litigator at a top law firm. He needed someone who could resonate with the jurors, which meant he needs an expert who has a thick southern draw. Based on this client’s need, then the three of us called every expert who matched the criteria, listening to the expert’s accent. We realized there was a niche for lawyers.

We asked the lawyers we knew how important expert witnesses were for their cases. They said having the right expert would make or break a trial. We built a database of every lawyer in the country. It was still a time when it was cool to get email. We started to spread virally. Fast forward 13 years, we became the largest expert witness and referral firm for lawyers.

What led to the acquisition by Thomson Reuters?

By 2006, we also had ongoing discussions with firms like LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters about partnership or acqusition possibilities. Ultimately, these firms saw themselves as data companies and were not interested.

I then started receiving calls from venture capital firms asking me if we wanted to acquire some of the smaller companies in his space. As we started looking at this, two and half years later, Thomson Reuters called back up and made an offer. We took the deal.

Tell us about your latest venture, 86 Pillars.

When starting Round Table Group, we learned that what professors loved doing, more than anything else, is teaching. The prospect of teaching commercial decision makers, helping these decision makers make important decisions, is exciting and meaningful for them.

In this vain, business schools offer executive education. It is extremely lucrative for universities, and has been popular among corporate clients. These programs are extremely expensive, and they are not even customized.

86 Pillars represents the Parthenon, the glories of Ancient Greece, and the ideals of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and justice. During that era, the Greek’s focused on the concept of “arete” which has to do with living up to one’s fullest potential. In our context, we deal with world class education and corporate learning; the concept of life long learning for true leaders.

Our pricing is 90% less than customized education from Harvard Business School, and we would also argue better. We have the finest professors in the world and can put together a private educational program, where the case study is the current problem, and the homework assignments are the tasks to solve the problem. We have 9,000 scientists and technologists, including numerous faculty members from Harvard, CalTech, and other top institutions. It’s about just making the Executive Education experience more relevant.

What advice do you have for corporate innovators?

Stacking the deck in your favor. Optimize the odds in your favor, by tapping into what experts provide. For example, if you are going to embark on a turnaround, tap into the expertise of turnaround execs. They know what it’s like to have failed so many times. 86 Pillar’s favorite topic is, from an education point of view, how to successfully do internal corporate startups and acquisitions more successfully.

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