We have learned in our 25 years of experience that every expert witness search is unique. For different situations, a plethora of additional criteria to the expertise are often needed, or certainly preferred. One of the most common requests is that the expert have previous testifying experience.
As an expert witness search firm, we help legal teams profile and discover the ideal expert witness for any given matter. Often, this process involves a discussion about the importance of testifying experience. This discussion is always an interesting one, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to expert search and referral. The unique nature of each legal matter creates the need for a different approach to each expert retention. We recently spoke with two attorneys, Sarah Wirskye, of Wirskye Law Firm and Brett Govett, of Norton Rose Fulbright, on this topic to gain their insight.
While some matters require a seasoned expert, with dozens of hours of testifying experience, other matters benefit from a niche expert that happens to be new to the process.
Sarah Wirskye is a top white-collar criminal defense attorney in Dallas, TX and has been defending clients for over twenty years. Sarah has turned to both seasoned and new expert witnesses throughout her career. “I’ve used both, and as I think back, I’ve had people who have done a great job with or without previous testifying experience. It depends on the individual,” said Sarah. She noted that some previous experience at being examined was valuable, regardless of whether testifying occurred at trial or in depositions. Sarah continues, “In a perfect world, I’d probably want somebody who had a little testifying experience, but not necessarily a lot.”
An underlying issue as it relates to testifying experience is comfort in the courtroom. For some experts this composure is natural and doesn’t require time to develop, while others need time in the courtroom to foster a calm demeanor.
Brett Govett is an experienced litigator in commercial, intellectual property, and tort cases. When he evaluates experts, he asks, “Are they comfortable in the courtroom? Are they comfortable on their feet with questions that are being thrown at them while testifying? Do they like to make eye contact? If it’s an uncomfortable scenario for them, then you’re going to want to go in a different direction.”
When it comes to appealing to a jury, sometimes lack of experience brings specific value. Brett explains, “Experts that have not testified before have the luxury of saying that this is a brand-new environment for them, and it is not how they make their living.” This perspective is important because it demonstrates changes in modern juries and forms the basis of their opinion of an expert’s trustworthiness; a professional expert witness might not seem as genuine, which can lessen the impact of their presence on the stand. Brett continues, “I really think that testifying experience has become less important in terms of the expert’s credibility.”
So, what is important? Context is everything. As legal teams gain an understanding of the case, their ideal expert begins to take form. Sometimes this expert has spent the last two decades solely working as an expert witness. Sometimes, this is an expert with no testifying experience but one who has a very deep understanding of the issues at hand and is a good communicator.
No matter the type of expert that you’re looking for, we know where to find them. As pioneers of the expert witness search industry, Round Table Group has spent the last 25 years connecting attorneys with their ideal experts. If you’d like to discuss a current expert witness, or simply learn more about our approach to expert witness search and referral, contact us at 202-804-8121.