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Never Stop Learning: Maintaining your Expertise

March 13, 2024
Knowledge concept, light bulb in brain puzzle piece

By Noah Bolmer 

Maintaining your expertise, particularly in dynamic fields, is an important endeavor. While staying on top of frequent changes in regulations, procedures and discoveries is time-consuming; by remaining engaged in your field and committed to learning, expert witnesses remain current, credible and persuasive. 

Brushing Up 

An oft-overlooked part of expertise is keeping fresh on what you’ve already learned. For experts with careers of any considerable length, the first part of remaining an expert is reinforcement. According to Dr. Elliot Fishman, “One should be learning throughout one’s whole career and brushing up on what they do monthly when a case is presented. It allows them to relearn the literature. I should not be learning literature fresh.”  

Dr. Chuck Easttom agrees, noting some of the resources available to refresh your expert knowledge:  

I would say whether or not you pay to take a certification or [going] back to college is not necessary, but to constantly be ready to learn. There are many free resources out there. For example, I am a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and they have online courses that are free video courses. You can brush up on circuit design or Wi-Fi protocols or whatever. You have got to constantly brush up. Now that is more obvious in technology, but that is true in any area. 

Become Certified 

Expert witnesses should seek to obtain and maintain industry certifications where available. Certifications often require continuing study and serve to inform clients of your commitment to your field. Dr. Chuck Easttom advises:   

You have more knowledge than an average person, however, I take it to a higher level. If I hire a mechanic, I assume they are an expert in my model of car and they can take care of business. So, I feel that is what an expert should provide in court cases. The way I maintain that is, and I am just a tad bit obsessive-compulsive; I am always learning something new. I have an absurd number of industry certifications. Seventy-four at this point because I frequently go back, study up, and take a new certification. Not because I need it. There is no one out there saying, “We would hire you if you just had one more certification.” I do it because that is my way of [saying], “I have studied up on this new thing.”  

Some fields require certifications, many of which have ongoing educational components. Expert Lisa Barnes notes the obligations for appraisers, “Well, there are several things. You need to have what is called a USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) so the IRS accepts your appraisals, Like, accountants and attorneys, you do have to keep up if you are legitimate, so I do coursework all the time. One can never be perfect in this area. It is an ongoing process.” Expert George Reis agrees, “I continue my education and have been certified in my field; I’m certified in forensic photography and forensic video analysis. Those certifications required a substantial amount of training and continuing education.” 

In-Person Meetings 

Interfacing with your peers is one of the best ways to stay on top of industry developments. Most fields have regular conferences, which Dr. Harvey Segall recommends, “I think attending meetings is certainly a big help. For the upcoming meeting of the American Society of Head Neck Radiology, I had two accepted presentations and have been invited to speak at this year’s October meeting of the Western Neuroradiological Society. Not only am I attending the meeting, but I am on the faculty of these, so that is helpful.” 

Expert Reis enjoys regular meetings with fellow experts in his field, honing each other’s techniques:  

When I first started in this business full-time, I went and sought training from a field of expert witnesses. I learned about report writing, depositions, testimony, and cross-examination training in the field of expert witnessing. [. . .] [S]everal other experts and I have started a group that gets together every month. We share a glass of wine and talk about the expert cases that we’ve had, the things we’ve learned, and we invite attorneys, other experts, and judges to come and speak to our group regularly. 

Presenters attend conferences not only to learn, but to teach. Expert David Gannaway augments his course work with speaking regularly speaks at industry events, “I take classes, but being a presenter and speaker for the National Association of Enrolled Agents helps me keep up with the issues. [. . .] I gave a presentation three or four months ago, where we were going to look at the IRS and how they are looking at digital assets and cryptocurrency. So yes, I am familiar with those, and both take courses and [am] a speaker on behalf of the National Association of Enrolled Agents.” Expert Paul Andersen uses casework as a speaker, “Many times, at various safety symposiums for safety professionals, [I’ll] present one or two cases. [. . .] so other safety professionals can glean some approaches and successes in their methods.” 

Some expert witnesses consider speaking at conferences essential for attendance; Dr. Elliot Fishman considers whether a conference is worthwhile, “About 10 years ago, I decided that I would never attend a conference unless I was going to speak or be on the panel. [. . .] It is a time sink, and it is a double-edged sword to collect many business cards and meet people because I have trouble not staying in touch with my existing network, and it is disrespectful to meet, make new professional acquaintances, and not follow up in a meaningful manner.” 

Get Online 

While in-person meetings are a fantastic way to interface, the Internet has made it a lot easier to enhance your expertise without traveling. Dr. Segall notes, “There is nothing more helpful than Google. Anything you want to know, you go to Google– and that also pertains to medicine. If I see a condition where I need to refresh my knowledge or if I come up with something that I need to get myself familiar with, I go to the web. There are so many resources out there, and many of these courses are online, so you must maintain a curiosity and continue to educate yourself and grow as a physician.” 

Industry associations often have a wealth of resources online. Appraisal expert Edward Yee takes full advantage of online coursework:  

[S]ome programs help appraisers write reports and gain the necessary skills to be effective expert witnesses. The Appraiser Association of America offers these programs, usually once a year. It is good to check their website in terms of their educational offerings. It is interesting because when they do offer classes they usually always fill up. It is a topic that people are interested in, so it is important to have your skills tuned up both from the appraisal report writing aspect as well as you know being effective on the stand.

Expert Dan Arthur concurs, “I do a lot of continuing education. I go to conferences, but I also do many webinars and online courses. This year I have probably done maybe 30 or 40 webinars for other people. That helps me [get] credit for some of that stuff.” Similarly, the advantage of staying home is something that expert Dean Barron enjoys, “I don’t have to travel. I just log in and usually, they’ve got networking events that all the conferences do, and people will show up who never would have shown up. They may be from other countries [or] other continents. I think that’s important.” 

Stay Current on Relevant Law 

It is imperative to remember that the engaging attorney is the legal expert and primary source for legal questions. That said, some experts will benefit from legal research in addition to field specific studies. Dr. Alice Berkowitz stays current, “I stay up on all the current research and case law. [. . .] I have Westlaw that I’m on all the time.” 

Staying on top of changing laws and regulations can be time consuming, but worthwhile. Expert Terry Stroud finds that the effort pays off:  

There are new laws and new regulations; it takes a serious effort to keep updated on things so, I attend seminars. About 10 years ago, I became a Certified Fraud Examiner, which appealed to law firms for litigation support. Once I got that designation, I started getting more and more calls. When law firms or attorneys look at my background, they know if there is a banking issue and if it involves fraud, I am the person to take the account.  

Stay Engaged in your Industry 

Many of the top expert witnesses believe that there is no substitute for continuing work in your industry. Remaining active requires dedication that attorneys notice. Dr. Laura Miele explains:  

I’m a constant learner; I don’t know if I sleep half the time. I’m constantly researching. I go above and beyond when I research my cases. I will read and [think], “Wow, that is interesting.” Then, I learn more about it. I believe being an expert is staying at top of your game and always learning, growing, and evolving with what is going on in [your] industry. The great thing for me is I am in all the industries that I testify for. In sports, I still coach. I am also a sports psychology consultant. I am constantly around different teams, athletes, and coaches. I also speak frequently about injury prevention and different genres. I could speak about it in amusements, in sports, recreation, and fitness. [. . .] I always re-up my credentials. So, for some of my certifications, you must go back a year or two or three, so I am always keeping certain certifications alive, and I am always growing.  

Professor Gil Fried concurs, noting the differences between academic and industry knowledge:  

I think one of the most important points that I can raise is that an expert witness has to be part of an industry. If you’re an academician– that’s great, but that doesn’t necessarily make you an expert [. . .] I’m a member of the Stadium Managers Association, the Florida Venue Managers Association, [and] the Sport Recreation Law Association. I mean, I could keep going on [about] all these different groups that I’m a member of, and a lot of that is because I want to be there and go to their conferences and talk to the people, so when I’m on the witness stand and someone says, “Well, how do you know [something is] being done?” I say “[. . .] I just read an article with the head of this stadium, and I talked with this person and [that] person at these conferences, and this is what they’re saying is going on in the league right now”. It’s no longer from an academic perspective. I’m bringing it in from an industry perspective.  

He continues:

Being able to combine academia into an industry is so critical, and that’s what oftentimes I see lacking with expert witnesses; that they just don’t have the ability to connect both sides. And if you do it well, it’s easy because what I do in the industry translates to what I bring in the classroom and what I write about, and it becomes a circle of all these three elements– teaching, research, and industry– all working together and that just helps me as an expert. 

Most expert witnesses benefit not only from a thorough, but also a current understanding of their field. This can help minimize the research necessary during engagements and keep you from being caught off-guard. Remember the keys: brush up on your expertise, keep abreast of the latest developments in your field by attending and even speaking at conferences– whether in-person or virtual– and have a working knowledge of the legal framework affecting your industry.  

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

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