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Collaborate: Expert Witnessing is a Team Effort

November 15, 2023
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Understand Your Case Assignment and Team Dynamics

Being an expert witness sounds like an individual calling. However, you are always part of a team.  Sometimes it is an individual expert with the legal team. When an attorney hires you to assist on their case, you join their team.  If you can, meet all members of the team so that information is shared, and everyone understands where they fit as much as the confidentiality of information will allow. If this doesn’t happen, a game of telephone can ensue. David Harkavy recalls such a time:  

We do get calls and we do go through those interviews with counsel, and we explain our work strategy or the way we perform our work, so counsel understands our approach. The last thing you want to do is to get into a situation where counsel has certain expectations that you cannot meet. I have been involved in those situations where the attorneys try to, early in the case say, ‘David, we are not thinking this. We are thinking over here.’ I am like, ‘Then you need to provide the evidence to support that.’ One of my cases where I testified at trial on damages fell apart quickly. […] The attorneys wanted me to put forward a very large lost profits opinion. I explained and asked them to tell me a little bit about the facts that support causation, and they explained to me, ‘Well, we have got a fact witness for the plaintiff. He is going to testify on causation factors.’ I said, ‘OK, tell me a little bit about that.’ The lawyers explained it to me and asked me to assume causation. When we got to trial, and the day before I was scheduled to testify on lost profits, the plaintiff’s fact witness on causation melted down at trial and was not adequately able to support causation. Meaning that it was not the defendant’s actions that caused the lost profits. It was other factors. So, even before I testified on lost profits, counsel withdrew my loss profits opinions, and I testified only on a few small other components of my damages opinions. I can tell you the client and the judge were very upset with our team because they were expecting a very large lost profits damage opinion to be at trial and it was not there because we did not have sufficient evidence on causation. That was a tough pill to swallow for all of us because I felt we were all in together and we just did not meet the criteria. Therefore, my lost profits opinions were not presented at trial.  

Create Your Own Dream Team 

In addition to the litigation team, many experts form their own teams over time. Robert Sherwood is thrilled to have support now:  

I wish I had known that I needed to get a team early. When I started, I thought I had to do everything: check my [citations] and documents and check if every URL was correct. That is not a good way for an expert to spend their time. Some people can do that faster. They are better at it than experts, so I got my team together about halfway through my expert witness career. Now, the team for me consists of at least two good researchers. An expert should not spend their time researching Google on some issue. An expert can hire a good researcher for a quarter of what you hire the expert for, and they do a good job. So, I have two researchers and have used them for 10 or 15 years. Usually, I have my team do one good deep dive. A computer programmer should also be part of the team. I can write software, but it gets more complicated daily and takes more specific experience. I have a deep-dive computer programmer that I use. The last part of my team is an editor. I am a good writer and have written a few books, but some editors are unbelievable. If you get a good editor on your team, your reports will look five times better, and you will not spend much time on commas, periods, and semicolons. Even if you can do that, an editor can do it faster and better. I made changes to my document and then gave it to an editor, and it came back looking like somebody bled on it. There are so many corrections to make. I thought I had every comma I needed, but I missed 36, but that is their business. Your team focuses on your business. As an expert, you focus on technology and understanding how to go into a deposition. Let me close with this: I thought I must do all these things myself when I first started. Then I realized that there are some things I do not do well and others I do better. I realized lawyers were okay with that. They say, ‘I will get a bill for your team’s work. We understand they are cheaper than you are. We would rather have them editing than you.’ Now, I do not have any problem. For every job I start, I use my team. 

Robert Handfield similarly, has discovered that working with a team makes him a stronger expert:  

We have some brilliant Ph.D. students at NC State who are good with large datasets, statistical analysis, and modeling. I rely on them to help me with some of those cases. They are much better at it than I am. I am a good writer and understand data, but I am not good at manipulating it. It is a team effort. 

Capitalize on Your Team’s Strengths

Some experts have even discovered that they work best together and tend to get hired together. Nutrition science experts Dr. Douglas Kalman and Dr. Susan Hewlings are two of these: 

Dr. Douglas Kalman: [Sue and I] often work as a team. We also have different experiences and perspectives.  I have more experience than Sue in court testimony, but we both have a plethora of experience writing expert reports that are used in cases. […] 

Dr. Susan Hewlings: Doug and I already knew that we worked well together. We had written a lot of stuff together and we have worked well together for years, since college.  I think it is knowing your strengths and capitalizing on [them]. When we get on Zoom calls, and we talk through it, Doug is good as far as being an expert witness on the fly, like being able to defend this on the fly. I am the person who does the deeper dive side, does the reference and the report. Then, we mix our areas of expertise. We have a lot of crossover, but that actually helps.  

As expert witnessing is not a solitary endeavor, make sure you know the team, the roles each member plays (including your own), and that you are all ready to support each other as the case moves forward. Be a team player! 

If you are interested in being considered for expert witness gigs, consider signing up with Round Table Group. For nearly 30 years, we have helped litigators locate, evaluate, and employ the best and most qualified expert witnesses. Contact us at 202-908-4500 for more information or sign up now! 

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