Experts and attorneys understand that the ability to write a clear, understandable, and defensive report is a requirement to being a successful expert witness.

Professor and clinical psychiatrist Kirk Heilbrun, PhD explains.

Q. Dr. Heilbrun, how important is report writing ability for the success of expert witnesses?

Extremely important.  The report is the substantive foundation on which excellent expert testimony is based.  It gives all the necessary information—what you did, how you did it, how you interpreted findings and reasoned toward conclusions—that a good expert witness should provide in testimony.

Q. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see expert witnesses make in writing reports?

Failing to identify the legal question(s) early in the report

Failing to attribute information to source(s)

Failing to sufficiently describe the basis for one’s reasoning and conclusions

Writing in an advocacy-based rather than an impartial tone

Using technical language unnecessarily

Q. What kinds of technology should expert witnesses be using when writing their reports?

 I use standard word processing software (Word) and occasionally Excel or PowerPoint.

 Q. What do you do in a case where there is no expert witness report?

I would not offer an opinion in testimony without conducting an evaluation and documenting the findings in a report.  The only exception would be if I were called as a “state of the science” or “state of the practice” expert.

Professor Heilbrun will be speaking at the SEAK National Expert Witness Conference to be held on May 3-4, 2014 in Orlando, FL.

Writing the Excellent Expert Report

Kirk Heilbrun, PhD

The success or failure of an expert witness depends in large part on the ability to write a clear, persuasive, defensible report. Dr. Heilbrun will review and explain a successful protocol for writing the excellent expert report including: using the evaluation as a foundation (mastering the facts, research, investigation), answering the questions posed by retaining counsel, objective standards, sections and formatting, quality control, drafts, use of the latest technology, and defensible methodologies. He will also discuss cases in which no report is written.  He will offer 10 practical substantive and stylistic suggestions for writing and defending the excellent expert report.

Kirk Heilbrun PhD is currently Professor, Department of Psychology, at Drexel University. He is board certified in clinical psychology and in forensic psychology with the American Board of Professional Psychology, and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in six divisions. Since completing a postdoctoral fellowship in psychology and law in 1982, Dr. Heilbrun has been involved in personally conducting or supervising approximately 2,900 forensic evaluations at the request of courts, defense, and prosecution, and has testified as an expert approximately 290 times at the request of both the defense and the prosecution. He has been qualified as an expert in federal court, and in state-level courts in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.