Expert witness qualifications are governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 which states:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.
Note the conjunction “or” in the rule. In order to qualify as an expert witness under the Federal Rules of Evidence an expert need have knowledge, skill, experience, training “or” education. The conjunction being “or” and not “and” means that one would at a minimum need only one of the stated attributes.
Perhaps the four biggest myths regarding how to qualify as an expert witness are as follows.
1. You need to have an advanced degree. You in no way have to be a “doctor” or “professor” in order to serve as an expert witness. In fact, expert witnesses without any college degree whatsoever commonly testify, usually on the basis of their knowledge, experience, or skill. Think Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny.
2. You need to be “old” to do this work. One of the biggest mistakes potential expert witnesses make is thinking that they need to be very advanced in their careers in order to be a successful and believable expert witness. This is patently false. What you need instead is to know your stuff and be right. There are plenty of people who can meet this test despite a lack of gray hair.
3. You need to have gone to a prestigious Ivy League University. See myth number one above. In many cases, no education at all is required if you are qualified by other methods under Rule 702 (such as skills, knowledge, training, or experience). The vast majority of top notch expert witnesses in their fields have ordinary academic backgrounds.
4. If you’re really smart and have all kinds of training, experience and education, you will be allowed to testify to pretty much whatever you want. This is not going to happen. In fact, expert witnesses commonly get into difficulty when they offer opinions outside of their true areas of expertise.
In sum, qualifying as an expert witness is usually not a problem – as long as the expert in question can demonstrate under Rule 702 how his knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education is relevant to the opinions he will be offering in the case. Don’t let absence of an advanced degree or stellar academic credential stop you from being an expert witness. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to wait until late in your career to serve as an expert. Qualifying as an expert witness is usually quite easy – as long as you restrict your testimony to areas where you possess ample knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.