How to Make an Impact as an Expert Witness
Every day expert witnesses testify at trials and depositions across the country, covering topics as diverse as DNA analysis, blood spatter, injury causation, life care planning, and so much more. These professionals are designated as expert witnesses by the Court because they possess special knowledge about a topic far beyond that of a layperson.
Unfortunately, expertise in a field doesn't always translate to being able to explain those principles to non-experts. This can be a problem for attorneys, especially in cases that hinge on expert testimony. If an expert witness isn't able to clearly explain the topic to a jury, or if they come across as pompous or biased, jurors may completely discount their testimony.
As court reporters, we capture expert testimony at least on a weekly basis. The best expert witnesses we've encountered have a few things in common - qualities potential clients can ascertain in a conversation or two. Here are some of the common qualities we've seen in great expert witnesses - outside of their topic knowledge.
· They make the testimony come alive. Well, making testimony come alive might be a bit of a stretch. A convincing expert, though, could be talking about the physics of a car crash, blood spatter, DNA, or how an injury happened, and capture the attention of the jury. Experts cannot avoid their field's "jargon" while testifying, but they can find engaging ways to describe their opinion.
· They believe that "teaching" is part of their job description. A professional expert witness knows that part of their job is to teach basic principles of their field to all involved - counsel, judge, jury.
· They can relate to "normal" people. Even if their IQ is right up there with Stephen Hawking (and they're sure you know it), an effective expert witness is able to leave their ivory tower pretenses at home. No one wants to feel talked down to, even juries.
· They are articulate and speak clearly. In addition to being a teacher, an expert witness is also a public speaker. It's crucial that they don't mumble and that they're able to project their voice.
· They are organized. Whether testifying via videotaped deposition or live in court, the expert should have all the required or customary information in their file (and counsel should inform them of exactly what that is). Looking like one is playing games is never a good look.
· They are impartial, or can leave personality issues aside when testifying. Perhaps the expert witness has some strong opinions about the case, the parties, counsel, or the manner in which the case has been handled. Having an opinion is not a problem; making that opinion apparent is a problem. In one murder case we worked on in North Carolina, a defendant's expert witness so blatantly excoriated the prosecution and the prosecution's expert that he came off as smug and too biased to render a valid expert opinion. In post-trial interviews, jurors said they were turned off by his attitude and ignored his opinion.