Repeatable success as an expert witness is only achievable through adequate preparation. Legal teams can help position their experts for success by ensuring they are equipped with everything needed to be convincing and authoritative in the role. Even the most experienced experts need preparation prior to testimony. According to computer hardware and software technology expert Mike Slinn, “The best way for an expert witness to prepare is to over-prepare. Competent experts prepare until they get it right.”
So how can litigators help make sure that their expert has an adequate foundation? Focusing on the following areas will help both beginners and seasoned professionals get ready for testimony:
Communication skills are important in most professional settings, and as an expert witness these skills are critical. Testimony requires the clear and convincing conveying of ideas, but effective communication is required before anyone takes the stand. Seeking the proper channels and opening lines of communication with the legal team will help illuminate important case details and strategy.
Sports nutrition and food science expert, Dr. Douglas Kalman noted, “I have testified in cases, written reports, and testified in cases since I would say the late 90s…To prepare, I make sure that I have good communication with the lawyer because they always have a good feeling and know what the other counsel is going to primarily be asking.”
The focus on excellent communication is obvious when considering how an expert expresses concepts and relays information during testimony. However, internal communications prior to trial will prepare an expert for success by boosting understanding and confidence. Communication will also save resources, ensuring that experts are correctly interpreting deliverables.
Dr. Susan Hewlings, expert witness, and Director of Scientific Affairs at Nutri Source/GRAS Associates, explains “We make sure to keep in close communication and ask questions from our legal sources. Be clear about what you are being asked and [that] your deliverable matches your ask is important.”
It’s impossible to know all the answers or anticipate the specifics of cross-examination, but deepening understanding around case facts and themes is always possible. All experts should approach the work with an unmistakable foundation in the facts of the case, the context of the facts, and the industry principals needed to speak to the topic convincingly.
Establishing credibility is a primary goal as an expert witness, and demonstrable knowledge enhances this goal. Familiarity with the documents authored and opinions expressed on both the case in question and historically as an expert is the first step. Becoming grounded in the overall themes of the case will help experts remain nimble during cross examination.
Focusing on themes related to tough questions helps keep the expert in control of the facts, making their delivery more natural and less defensive. Themes provide context, which impacts how facts are perceived. “Context can be more important or as important as the facts; because they color what the facts mean and the import of that.”
When an expert is knowledgeable of the ins and outs of a case, it translates in the courtroom. On the other hand, providing incorrect facts undermines credibility, and can call into question the opinions provided throughout testimony.
Alignment as a team requires a clear understanding of goals and deliverables. As an expert witness joining an established legal team, managing these expectations is a necessity. Should an expert find themselves in a position where expectations are not clear, they risk underperforming and negatively impacting the case.
Dr. Kalman explains, “When you are working with law firms on complex or even easy cases, you must manage the expectations of what date the report is due. What highlights are you looking for? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses? We like to manage those types of expectations and get a clear-cut calendar timeline of when everything needs to be pristine”
Following these steps go a long way in preparing an expert witness for testimony. While there are other critical components of trial prep, this foundation is critical. The goal is to empower your expert witness to succeed, positioning them to confidently author their report, take the stand, and educate the courtroom on the facts of a case.
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 202-908-4500 for more information or start your expert search now.