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Set Your Expert Witness Up for Success

March 9, 2023
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Note: Quotes have been condensed and edited for clarity. 

It took hours of research, interviews, discussions with your client, and even some negotiation, but you landed the perfect expert. You’re all set now, right? 

Not quite.  

While securing the right expert is an important part of your case, to fully harness their value you must establish and maintain channels of communication and set expectations.   

Experienced expert Dr. Eric Cole now takes the initiative in setting up communications: 

In the beginning [of my expert witness work], I would keep waiting for the attorneys. I would get [a] call asking, ‘Eric, how is the report going?’ And I would say, ‘What report?’ They’d say, ‘The report is due in 48 hours.’ I said, ‘I did not know there was a report due in 48 hours.’ We went back and forth and realized that they forgot to notify me. But I also failed to inform them. So, the approach I use today is, what can I do to make their life as easy as possible? 

“[Now] when I start a case, I try to get the entire schedule of when fact discovery ends and when the report is due. Recently, we had a report we thought was due January 15th. We reached out, and the lead attorney asked, ‘No one contacted you?’   We thought somebody was working on the report with you.’ [Because we reached out early] we got in front of what could have been a fire drill because of the holiday season.

You can’t always count on your experts to be this proactive; however, it’s also important to make clear what you want. Expert Susan Hewlings notes: 

The biggest thing we learned is to stay in close contact with legal because oftentimes we are coming from two different backgrounds. Sometimes we will try to interpret what [the attorneys] are asking us for in reports, and we are wrong . . . We have done this whole report, have done this total deep dive, spent hours on it, and the lawyers said, ‘This could have been in a three-sentence statement.’ Making sure you are clear on what you are being asked and making sure your deliverable matches your ask is important.

Helping the expert understand their role in your strategy also makes a difference. Brian Weinthal, formerly a partner at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella and now Chief Administrative Law Judge of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, explains: 

You need to give them their role in the story. It is like kids in a high school play. If the child does not know where their character fits into [the story], they are going to walk on stage, deliver their line in a vacuum, and it is over. If the expert knows what [their role] is, [that] you are relying on them to do their part of this tale that you are telling the jury, they are going to be far more effective in terms of communicating. Not only that, but they are also going to be more persuasive because they know what it is you are trying to do. 

We cannot silo them. The new federal rules give more freedom for attorneys to speak and converse with experts than when I started [working] with [Round Table Group]. It used to be that any document, any wisp of anything you had, immediately had to be turned over to an expert and the other side. There is more freedom [now] for attorneys to communicate with experts about theory and what their actual views of a case are. If you are not maximizing your time with an expert, to explain to them their role, you are letting the best opportunity to sell a persuasive part of your case go by.

When you give your expert the roadmap to your matter and ensure that communication flows both ways, then you are far more likely to have a smooth ride. 

Round Table Group wants you to get the most out of your expert witnesses. For more than 25 years, Round Table Group has helped litigators locate, evaluate, and retain 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 to start your expert search now. 

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