What Lawyers are Looking for When Selecting and Retaining an Expert Witness
We at SEAK Inc. have conducted independent research gathered from trial attorneys across the United States on what they are looking for when selecting and retaining an expert witness. The skills and attributes they are looking for when searching and retaining expert witnesses can be broken down into 10 major abilities:
1) Adapt to the audience/examiner situation.
The attorneys know that one size does not fit all and the expert has to be savvy enough to take into consideration the makeup of the jury and the cross-examining attorney.
2) Answer questions on the stand in a way that fits within the client’s theme of the case.
Experts need to know the theme of the case and work that into their answers in cross-examination so that retaining counsel can argue this successfully at closing.
3) Communicate clearly, everything is secondary.
All trial attorneys understand that technical expertise in an expert witness is worthless unless the expert can clearly and effectively communicate what the jury needs to know in a respectful, understandable fashion.
4) Concede points they should concede.
Expert witnesses dramatically increase their credibility when they simply and directly make appropriate concessions. Their honesty is recognized and appreciated by the jury. Expert witnesses who quibble over every petty point are less valuable to retaining counsel as they are less effective.
5) Listen carefully to the question and answer it directly.
Active listening is a must for an effective expert witness. The expert needs to hear what is being asked, what is not being asked as well as the subtext of the question and then answer it honestly and directly. Defensiveness or evasiveness in an expert can completely destroy his/her effectiveness.
6) Take the high road when personally attacked.
The expert who does not take it personally and remains cool, calm, and collected when under attack demonstrates professionalism. The contrast with the attacking attorney is not lost on the jury.
7) Distill complex concepts/science for the jury.
The expert witness who can turn to the jury, smile, and explain to them in language they can understand, complex issues is a very valuable expert. When the attorney and expert witness see some of the jury members nodding their heads, even if it is almost imperceptibly, they know they expert has successfully met this challenge.
8) Persuade the jury or judge.
The persuasive expert witness who is able to achieve this without being perceived as an advocate is seen by trial attorneys as very desirable and valuable.
9) Maintain their honesty.
Experts, who in the midst of a contentious adversarial litigation system can maintain their honesty and appearance of honesty are credible experts sought out by trial attorneys.
10) Ability to be jury friendly
Expert witnesses who are able to relate to and connect with members of a jury are seen by trial attorneys as the “go to” experts in both large and small cases.
Expert witnesses who are looking to be retained by trial attorneys should critically evaluate their trial skills and abilities and work to improve in any areas they are not as strong as they could be.