Keeping Courtroom Etiquette: 5 Rules to Boost Expert Witness Credibility  

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

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— Updated on June 25, 2020

Keeping Courtroom Etiquette: 5 Rules to Boost Expert Witness Credibility  

When you expert witness takes the stand to testify, the courtroom is their stage and the judge and jury are their audience. How experts appear, their tone of voice in answering questions, and the respect they convey all influence how the jury, judge, and counsel perceive your witness. In short, etiquette matters.

1) Good Manners Increase Likeability

Yes, our mothers were right. Good manners—a show of respect through common courtesy can make people like you. Scholars have written extensively on how expert witness likability can influence jury perception of credibility and impact testimony impact. In a seminal article on “likeability” the Journal of American Psychiatry Law states that, “Expert witness likeability may be defined as the degree to which an expert is friendly, respectful, kind, well-mannered, and pleasant.” Sounds like etiquette, right?

The authors dig deeper to reveal that a lack of aggressive, defiant contradiction and a low degree of arrogance in responses are associated with high witness likeability. Experts must take care to answer challenges intended to rattle them with polite responses.

2) Dress to Impress

The appearance of your expert witnesses will impact juries and judges. A disheveled appearance and sloppy or overly casual dress can be taken as a lack of respect for the judge and the court proceedings. Juries also may unconsciously feel disrespected by an expert that shows up with poor personal and physical characteristics to educate them on technical issues in the case. This sense of a lack of respect can turn judge and jury off to what your witness has to say.

Many expert witnesses may work in casual work environments, such as universities or research institutes. When winning is on the line, it’s best to leave nothing to chance. Take the time to politely check in with your expert to ensure their attire and personal grooming will be an asset rather than a liability in court.

3) Look Them in the Eyes

We tend to read people’s trustworthiness, their honesty, by looking them in their eyes. The Psychological Center for Expert Evaluations recommends experts look attorney’s in the eye when they are asking them a question. Importantly, the second part is for an expert to then move their eye contact to the jury while they answer to create credibility with the fact finders.

A steady gaze is a valuable trait in an expert witness. Shifty eyes are a sign of dishonesty and a killer for credibility. Don’t overlook the key impact of a steady gaze that connects with the jury’s eyes when you are selecting experts.

4) Educate, Don’t Frustrate

Etiquette also involves showing kindness and an appreciation that juries are lay people, not academics. These characteristics come across during testimony. A good expert witness understands that his or her subject matter may not be easy for most people to understand. They take the time to speak in a pleasing tone and break down complicated terms to make it easier for the jury to grasp what they are saying.  Effective expert witnesses show courtesy to the jury by not using jargon or esoteric terms that can leave a jury in the dust.

Tone impacts perception and likeability as well. You don’t want an expert who lectures the jury with curt, fast, staccato-like testimony. Remember, your expert’s role is to educate the journey. Their job is to help the jury understand technical issues that are important to your case. Helpful attitudes and clear communications are what you want to find in your experts.

5) Common Courtesy Rules the Day

At the end of the day, it’s all about common courtesy. Make sure your expert witnesses are vetted for etiquette if you want to win your next case. Another good approach is to use an expert witness referral service with access to thoroughly vetted witnesses who know the importance of good courtroom etiquette.

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