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Becoming an Effective Expert Witness: Knowing Yourself

December 2, 2022

The path to becoming an expert witness is elusive. Many believe that knowledge alone is enough to be a competent expert. While experience in your field is extremely significant to your success as an expert witness, other factors are crucial to truly being effective including focus, confidence, defining confines, and exploring the topic you love in a new context.  

Do you have what it takes? It is important to recognize that it is not an easy transition to becoming an expert witness.   

Applying Your Knowledge 

Being an expert witness is an extremely fulfilling profession, as it allows you to take what you are passionate about and highlight your knowledge and experience in a vastly different way than you did before. There are many moments that experts shared on Discussions at the Round Table as lessons they wish that they had known earlier.  One of our experts, Dr. John Steinberg, Internal Medicine, and Pyrotechnics Expert Witness, explains that “you will enjoy [being an expert witness] as long as you do not mind working a little bit far afield of the law and learning the rules of the game you are playing.” The satisfaction of using your expertise in a new way as an expert witness outweighs any challenges that arise from it being a unique career.    

Standing Your Ground 

Many pieces of advice from seasoned expert witnesses fall under the umbrella of knowing yourself. Starting as an expert witness, you need to prove that you have the experience within your profession to be questioned for hours on the subject and/or to create a detailed report. To prove this to others, you need to know that you have the experience and knowledge for what it takes. While it might be cliché, confidence is key. You need to be 100% behind your answers. To put it simply, Dr. W. Richard Laton, President of Earth Forensics, and Associate Professor of Hydrogeology at California State University, Fullerton, describes it as, “It’s not who is the smartest person in the room, it’s who’s the most knowledgeable.” He elaborates, “Other people may have different opinions. That does not make yours wrong but does not make it right either. You have to stick to it.” You must agree with everything that you say. It is perfectly okay to explain that you do not know the answer or that you cannot recall that specific detail. 

Knowing Your Boundaries 

When attorneys are asking you questions to see if you fit the qualifications for their case, you must know your limit. Dr. Chuck Easttom recalls a time when the opposing expert bit off more than he could chew:

There was a patent case some years ago where the opposing expert had a phenomenal CV. His resume was fantastic and there was some discussion about Java code that was part of the case. I began looking over his report and I began to suspect he did not know much about Java and the attorney who hired me said, ‘That’s simply not possible. Look at his resume.’ I said, ‘Do me a favor. When you take his deposition, will you put a printout of the code in front of him and ask him to walk you through it?’ After struggling for approximately 20 or 30 minutes, he finally admitted under oath that he had never written a line of Java code. I cannot understand why he would take that job. I think sometimes people like doing the work or the pay.

It is always tempting to say yes – it’s nice to be hired! – but you need to remember that sometimes the right answer is no.

While there are many tips that can be learned from experienced expert witnesses, the main takeaways are that you need to know how to apply your experience and knowledge, stick to your beliefs, and know your limitations and be able to communicate them to others. The attorneys who you work with are going to have different processes of working on a case than you. They may not think the same way that you do, and they might have different boundaries than you. It is critical to communicate properly so that you can work well together. To learn more from expert witnesses, listen to our Discussions at the Round Table podcasts on our website.   

For more than 25 years, Round Table Group has helped litigators locate, evaluate, and employ the best and most qualified expert witnesses. Round Table Group is a great complement to any litigator’s quest for an expert witness and our search is always free of charge. Contact us at 202-759-5912 for more information or start your expert search now.

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