Selecting The Best Expert Witness For Your Case: A Step-By-Step Guide

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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— Updated on June 23, 2020

Selecting The Best Expert Witness For Your Case: A Step-By-Step Guide

Select The Best Expert Witness

In today’s increasingly complex world, attorneys find themselves calling on expert witnesses ever more frequently to explain technical or scientific facts, analyze data, perform tests, and explain the results of their work to jurors with variable backgrounds. Building an effective case demands more than just an expert: it demands the best expert.

When seeking the best expert witness for your case:

Check qualifications thoroughly.

Opposing counsel will go through your expert’s qualifications with a fine-tooth comb, so it pays to do the same long before you settle on a particular expert witness.

The expert’s CV provides a convenient outline for starting a qualifications check. Tools like Google Scholar can help you access copies of the expert’s published articles, or your expert may be able to provide copies without forcing you to delve behind a paywall. A standard Google or Bing search of your expert’s name can help you cover ground that’s not listed in the CV. An organization that specializes in connecting attorneys with expert witnesses can also help you access additional background materials not readily available via search engines.

Confirm your expert witness has the time and perspective necessary for your case.

An overworked expert witness may have stellar credentials, but lack the time needed to give your case the critical attention and thought it deserves. Similarly, an otherwise-qualified expert may hesitate to embrace the position you envision your expert taking in the case. Neither situation will result in the best expert testimony for your client.

Instead, discuss the role you need your potential expert witnesses to play and the amount of time and energy you believe they’ll need to put into the case. If they explain why your projections are unreasonable, listen – and use this feedback to inform your next steps.

Consider how well your expert will work as part of your trial team.

When examining a potential expert witness’s “fit” with your case, consider how the expert will fit into both the trial structure and the team preparing the case.

For instance, accessing transcripts from past cases in which the expert testified will help you assess how they stand up to both direct and cross examination. Your expert should be comfortable in a courtroom and difficult to ruffle.

Look at (or ask about) how well the expert witness worked with other trial attorneys in the past. The best expert witness will view your case critically and help you understand any weaknesses so that neither of you is surprised by the opposing counsel’s questions.

“Cast” your expert well.

Your expert may be the top mind in his or her field, but if the expert’s demeanor is off-putting or their way of answering questions is incoherent, the expert’s brilliance will be lost on the jury. Consider not only what your expert must communicate, but how well they can do so.

In particular, look for an expert witness who can break down a complex topic in a simple, engaging way. An expert who can lead jurors through their reasoning so that the jurors feel they understand and can reach the same conclusion is well worth the investment.

Be prepared to address bias claims.

An expert witness with a long “track record” of testifying in similar cases may have outstanding skills on the stand, but may also be more open to attacks from opposing counsel on the grounds that they lack objectivity or integrity. A well-known expert may have burned bridges with local judges, or may have a past trial transcript or deposition that will quote them contradicting their stance in your case.

Choosing the right expert witness requires attorneys to balance a number of concerns, including objectivity, knowledge, and performance. The “best” expert for your case is one who strikes a balance that supports your client and your position.

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