Why it is Important for an Expert Witness to Stay Within Their Area of Expertise

[SEAK is the expert witness training company. The following clip has been excerpted from SEAK’s course, “How to Start, Build, and Run a Successful Expert Witness Practice.” Thank you for watching.]

The qualifications is the foundation of this pyramid. Which means that anything that you screw up with the things that we’re talking about here and I mean more broadly than just your qualifications, your qualifications, marketing activities, website image, and reputation, it’s going to screw up everything downstream. So you really want to be careful with this, you really want to be cognizant about not giving the lawyer any ordinance, any ammunition, any ammunition that the lawyer on the other side can use to club you over the head with.

So let’s start with qualifications and how to avoid getting clubbed over the head unnecessarily. What’s the first rule? Stay within your true area of expertise, stay within your sandbox. So as an expert you need to define what your assignment is and make sure that every facet of that assignment is something that’s within your true area of expertise. So we see this problem rear it’s ugly head in medical malpractice cases all the time, and we work on a lot of medical malpractice cases. So we were just teaching a course in California and we had an expert witness and he was a medical malpractice expert for the plaintiff, and he said, you know, the defendant was of the same specialty that he was. And he said that you know, “This doctor defendant screwed up, there was a breach of standard of care and he should have referred this out to a specialist,” of which the expert was not that specialist. Which is all well and good, that’s certainly within the area…the true area of expertise of the expert. But then the expert went too far and he said, “And that would have made a difference.” And would have made a difference, this is a primary care doctor, was either a neurology or a cardiology or interventional cardiology and oncology, I forget the exact situation was. But that expert wasn’t an oncologist and they really didn’t know, they really did have the qualifications to talk about to give an opinion on what difference it would have made had there been earlier treatment other than to say earlier is always better.

So things like that are, you know, can always be a problem. And it’s one of the lowest of the low hanging fruits is to look for any opinion, if you give three opinions, four opinions, five opinions, two, three, four of them may be well within your area of expertise, where the experts usually get themselves into trouble is by giving that last extra opinion. Don’t do it. You know what, if the lawyer…you know, the lawyer may pressure you to do this because they don’t want to pay for another expert because it would be cheaper for them. It would be easier for them, it would be quicker for them to just have one expert and have that one expert give all the opinions in the case. So there’s something I want you to remember about that which is gonna be very useful in your analyses and how you deal with a lot of the problems that…a lot of the issues that come up with lawyers. We’ll get to that right in a second.

All right, and I apologize because as you guys know my drawing stinks. But we’re gonna do this.

It’s also tough to write on a computer screen. So if you only remember 10 to 15 things from this course, this is one thing that I want you to remember and it will really guide you, it’ll give you a compass to guide you through your interactions with the lawyers, okay. So here we have the scenario where a lawyer wants you to give an opinion that is stretching your area of expertise or is clearly outside of your area of expertise or you’re not 100% comfortable with your qualifications giving an opinion in that area. And the reason that he wants to do that or she wants to do that is because as we discussed it would be easier that way, it would be cheaper that way, it would be quicker that way, okay.

Now, all of those problems: the cost, the time, and the difficulty, right, there’s only two types of problems in the world, there’s your problems and there’s somebody else’s problems. Those three problems that I just indicated to you that we just talked about, they are clearly over here, they’re on this side of the ledger. That’s the lawyer’s problems, that’s somebody else’s problem, right. And it’s not your responsibility to…and it’s not a good idea to turn the lawyer’s problem into your problem because that’ll put you into a world of hurt. So it’ll become your problem when you start giving an opinion that’s outside of your true area of expertise and you got a good, competent, aggressive lawyer on the other side that’s going to rip you apart. So don’t let somebody else’s problem, don’t let the lawyer’s problems become your problem, just say no. You can say it politely but “I ain’t doing that. I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable doing that, counselor. I’m sorry. I could recommend an oncologist for you, attorney so-and-so, I’d be happy to do so. I could recommend three oncologists that you might wanna contact in a situation like that.” “Oh, but don’t worry, the case is gonna settle. This will never see the light of day.” Look, write this down. Whenever the lawyer says, “Don’t worry.” Worry. Don’t take any chances. This is a marathon, not a sprint. This is your reputation, your reputation as we talked about earlier could be worth $6 million or more over the course of your career. Don’t screw around with stuff like this. Do not give opinions outside of your area of expertise. Do not turn somebody else’s problems into your problems.

SEAK is the expert witness training company. What you have just seen has been excerpted from SEAK’s course, “How to Start, Build, and Run a Successful Expert Witness Practice.” Thank you for watching.