Working With Experts: 6 Ways To Foster A Successful Attorney-Expert Partnership

Scott Blumenshine

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— Updated on June 23, 2020

Working With Experts: 6 Ways To Foster A Successful Attorney-Expert Partnership

Successful Attorney-Expert Partnership

Expert witnesses are often influential in swaying a jury’s opinion and helping them understand the technical aspects of a case. Thanks to their years of extensive knowledge and experience, attorneys can take advantage of their expert opinion to win a case. However, lawyers must be careful in cultivating a good working relationship with the expert witness since any misunderstanding or miscommunication can prove to be detrimental to the case.

Cultivating a satisfying working relationship can be difficult for new attorneys who do not have the experience of collaborating with experts. Here are 6 tips that will help you develop a good working relationship with an expert witness:

1) Outline the Compensation and Work Expectations Early On

After conducting extensive background checks on your selected expert witness – be it a neurologist providing testimony for a workers compensation case or an economist determining the loss of wages – you will need to prepare a meticulous engagement letter. Once an expert has agreed to provide their services, it is imperative to enumerate the fees and payment structure (whether hourly, monthly, flat fees, or retainer).

It is also essential at this stage to determine how you will use the expert witness. Will he or she merely be consulting on the case or provide testimony at trial? Ironing out the details early on will prevent the development of any conflicts in the future.

2) Learn About Technical Jargon From Your Expert

While some lawyers prefer to understand all the technical aspects of the case by learning as much as they can, others may be too busy to devote the necessary time to understand the finer aspects of the case and merely want to know if the expert will support their case.

Either way, you should use your expert witness’ knowledge and experience to help you understand the case. The most important benefit of an expert witness is that they can help you understand the technical aspects of the case by presenting them in an easily digestible way. Use their expertise to know everything you can about the case when you have little time to spare researching about it on your own.

3) Be Careful When Communicating With An Expert Witness

All written forms of communication between the attorney and the expert witness are discoverable. Which means, a lawyer must be cautious when communicating with an expert witness. Emails can be used to communicate details about formal procedures, deadlines, and court proceedings. Everything else should be, as much as possible, communicated in person. The engagement letter, emails or any sort of written communication must never state or even hint at what conclusion the lawyer would like the expert to arrive at in order to help win the case. Note-taking should also be done minimally.

Moreover, it is essential to state all this information to an expert witness who has never served in a legal case. Experienced expert witnesses are well-versed with court proceedings while new ones might not be so well informed.

4) Help Your Expert Witness Write A Stellar Report

Expert witnesses are required to write a final report. Attorneys can assist this process by providing their experts all the relevant information about the case, helping them choose the appropriate phrases to make the report understandable, and evaluating drafts of the report. However, you cannot change the content, modify the expert’s conclusions or tell them the outcome you desire from the report. Consult the following guides for best practices for drafting expert witness reports and formatting tips.

5) Work With Your Expert Witness Before Trial

More often than not, expert witnesses must provide their testimony to the jury during a trial. It is the attorney’s job to make sure the expert is aware of all lines of attack and provide advice on how to explain the technical aspects of the case simply and effectively. This will make it easier for the jury to understand the technical aspects of the case well.

Besides being a specialist in a field, an expert witness must also be a good communicator. Attorneys must ensure that their expert witness is good at explaining terms and technical jargon in a simplistic manner.

6) Keep Communication Lines Open

Attorneys must keep all channels of communication open for the expert witness since they may have questions. For any professional relationship to work, both parties must frequently communicate in order to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts in the future. Be present for your expert witness. Inform him or her about the strategies you wish to employ in the courtroom. Keeping them informed about the facts of the case, your strategy, and the legal proceedings can strengthen your working relationship.

The right expert witness can significantly alter the outcome of a trial. Developing a solid working relationship is essential to ensuring that you and your expert witness are on the same page during the entire duration of the trial.

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