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Expert Witnesses as Teachers

May 5, 2023
Illustration 93016044 © Mast3r |

Expert witnesses play myriad important roles in a case, including among others evaluating cases and crafting strategy, as we’ve discussed before. Arguably the most important role is as a teacher – educating the attorneys, court and jury about the aspects of the case that fall within their expertise.  

Attorney Teena-Ann V. Sankoorikal lays it out:  

I have relied on and worked with experts throughout my career. I found them to be invaluable in certain cases where expert presentation is important. They help to distill difficult concepts, help to explain, and make clear what is known in certain areas and what is within the purview of an expert, because I can say it, but it is not the same as when an expert who has “X” number of years’ experience says, ‘This is the way the math works. This is the way science works. This is [the way] the technology works.’

Many experts acknowledge the importance of this aspect as well. Laura DiBella says:  

I think that is the thing with the expert witness; we are educators. We are consultants. We are there to explain a world that is completely foreign to somebody else. [For instance, my specialty] maritime is foreign to many people, so simplifying it into words that they understand was my job when I was working for the Harbor Pilots. Nobody knew what a harbor pilot was, so I had to be the first to tell them […] and explain what they do as far as putting it all together. Sometimes it is picking things apart and conveying them in a way that people will understand. 

Charles Ehrlich, who was an attorney earlier in his insurance career and then moved over into working as a professor and expert witness, notes that beyond explaining the lay of the land in an expertise and stating the facts, it is important for an expert to bring the audience along with why it works as it does: 

One of the things that I learned as a lawyer was to explain where we are coming from. To educate, and I do not mean that in a sort of superior sense, but to bring the jury or the judge into the same world that you are dealing with. I try to do that as an expert as well, rather than just saying there was this insurance policy. Let’s assume I am on this side working on an insurer assignment. Here is the policy. Here is what happens. Here is the exclusion. Ergo you do not pay. A normal human being will look at that exclusion and say, ‘Okay, but why? Why wouldn’t you pay that?’ You need your expert work to lay the groundwork for telling that story. Why is this exclusion here? What is the point of it? What is the reason for it? Why does it make sense? Then the judge or the juror has a better understanding of where you are coming from. They may agree with you or disagree, but at least they are not just puzzled, shaking their head, and saying this does not make any sense to me. 

There is a fine line between teaching and selling, however, and experts should remain on the educational side. Attorney Kirk Watkins notes: 

What I want more than anything else is somebody that wants to teach the judge and the jury, as opposed to persuading them. If I can persuade the expert that my side is right, and that what we are doing is what he should be teaching to the judge and jury then he is going to do that automatically, and he is going to do it very effectively. If I am trying to get him to sell something that he may not fully believe in, I am going to have a problem with him.

Expert witnesses tend to be professors or industry experts with decades of experience training more junior members of their fields. Attorneys considering prospective expert witnesses should evaluate whether the expert can explain complicated concepts in their field in a way that is easily understood by outsiders, not only by people already in their field. As Sankoorikal noted at the beginning, “They help to distill difficult concepts.” If an expert is a good teacher, then they can reliably illustrate the issues at hand for everyone, making clear the issues you need the court to focus on.  

Round Table Group is here to help you find someone who can clarify the important details.  For over 25 years, we have 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 202-908-4500 for more information or start your expert search now. 

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