How to Build Your Credibility as an Expert Before Stepping Into Court

Expert witnesses have played roles in civil and criminal court proceedings for over 250 years.

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

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— Updated on July 13, 2022

How to Build Your Credibility as an Expert Before Stepping Into Court

Early definitions describe an expert witness as, ” skilled in any particular art, trade, or profession, being possessed of peculiar knowledge concerning the same.” Nowadays, expert witnesses aid triers of fact—layperson juries—in understanding a range of subjects at issue.

However, no legal treatise or standard explains precisely how experts can build their credibility before stepping into the courtroom. So, what does it take to show you are “skilled … possessed of peculiar knowledge” that’s needed in a case? How do you go about establishing yourself as an expert in your field? Here, we’re discussing how experts can take concrete steps to improve their credibility. Read on for five ways to developing your expert cred and increase your chances of retention.

1) Publish Your Expertise

Conducting and publishing research in your field is one of the best ways to develop your credibility as an expert. Additionally, many lawyers will review a professional’s publication history before deciding to retain them as an expert witness. As such, published articles and studies are excellent vehicles for communicating your depth of knowledge.

Publishing in academic journals also helps develop a reputation amongst your peers for quality academic work and industry expertise. Also, these peers may end up connecting you with expert witness opportunities. Let’s say a hiring attorney reaches out to one of your peers. However, this colleague lacks the necessary background for the job. That peer may end up recommending you as an expert if they’ve read your article or study.

You will also want to publish in Bar Association journals and websites. These platforms are where many hiring attorneys go for their information. Plus, attorneys trust their Bar. If a lawyer reads your article in their state bar magazine, you get instant credibility. In addition, your profile is even more appealing if your expertise matches their case issues.

Take the initiative to pursue publishing your work if you want to get noticed for potential expert witness opportunities. Consider putting out even short articles that discuss aspects of a study you conducted to quickly spread the word.

2) Speak at Conferences

Get in the habit of public speaking a few times a year. Look for conferences—academic or business—where you could contribute your knowledge and perspective. In addition, you can let the organizers know you want to participate in a panel. Also, you can offer to deliver a paper. Suggest a topic to a conference you feel attendees would like to learn about. Be sure to get on email lists to learn about conferences and requests for papers.  

For example, perhaps you’re interested in giving expert testimony on injuries commonly sustained in automobile, industrial, or workplace accidents. In this case, you should look for personal injury legal conferences. This will put you center stage before the lawyers who frequently hire experts in your area. Whatever your subject matter expertise is, look for ways to speak at conferences that attorneys might attend.

The most successful expert witnesses are the ones who have the ability to effectively communicate to the jury. Speaking at conferences and leading webinars not only pads your CV but also helps you hone your communication skills. Some of the most sought-after qualities in experts are even speaking tone, calm demeanor, eye contact, and comfortable cadence.

Consider taking public speaking training to develop the skills for effective public and courtroom speaking. Also, be sure to add your conference speaking activity to your CV and your website, if you have one.

3) Be Active in Professional Associations

Joining professional associations is another great way to boost your credibility as an expert. If you are an expert in materials science, for example, participate in events organized by a related society or association. Find out if they have any working groups in your subspecialty area and contribute to the effort. Moreover, you’ll likely enjoy the intellectual exchanges with your fellow committee members and can add this to your expert witness CV.

If an opportunity comes along to take a leadership role at the association, raise your hand (if you have the bandwidth). Leadership responsibilities and other professional accomplishments enhance your CV nicely.

Practical Tip: Lawyers will use your CV or resume to not only evaluate you but also to establish your expertise and credibility to the judge and jury.

4) Keep up With Advancements in Your Field

In general, most professionals prioritize keeping up with advancements in their industries. As such, hiring attorneys look for knowledgeable professionals who have invested in continued education. Most attorneys expect their experts to be on top of the most current advances in their subject matter area. If you can’t answer a question on current events in your field, you could easily be thrown by the opposition’s pointed questions.

Stay up-to-date on the literature in your area of expertise. Attend continuing education classes if appropriate. Attend scholarly conferences where you can distill your thinking in debates with peers.

Practical Tip: If you are driving advances in your specialty, leading graduate-level seminars, or advising students in cutting-edge dissertations, be sure to include these in your publicly available university bio and course listings.

5) Cultivate Relationships

Some industry and academic experts shun self-promotion. They may believe their work speaks for itself. Others may not be comfortable networking to cultivate relationships. The thing is, if you want more expert witness opportunities, networking can be a powerful tool.

Relationships are huge in the legal industry. As such, lots of lawyers rely on expert witness recommendations from other lawyers or referral services. So, invest in these client relationships. The next time someone asks, “Who would you recommend as an expert in…?” you want to be top of mind.

Keep up relationships with your professors who guided you to your Ph.D. or master’s degrees. Additionally, let them know you are looking for expert witness opportunities. Many legal professionals will approach university department heads for specialty expert recommendations.

Take time to go to local bar association mixers or luncheons if they’re open to the public. As a result, you just might meet a lawyer who is looking for an expert in your area now or down the road. For instance, if someone approaches you about a case, but you don’t have the specific expertise, recommend an expert who does. What goes around, comes around.

Practical Tip: Let an expert referral service cultivate relationships on your behalf. They’ll do the legwork to connect you with attorneys who are actively looking for experts with your credentials to consult or testify on open matters. Create your free Expert iQ account to get connected.

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