What Do You Want in an Expert Witness ?

What is the primary qualification of an expert witness that the jury will follow, and the other side will respect during settlement negotiations? That qualification comes from the fact that the job of the expert witness is to be a teacher. So what you want is an expert – who can express and teach — with clarity — the reasons behind his/her conclusion.

To express that rational foundation with clarity needs two things:

  1. the trial attorney must ask the proper questions, so that the expert can testify and tell the jury what it needs to know.
  2. the expert witness must understand the courtroom dynamic, and be an expert in communicating in the courtroom.

You usually need an expert witness who can express not only whether there was or was not negligence, but also who can express whether the underlying matter would have resulted in a favorable result, and whether the underlying matter had settlement value. This need arises from the legal fact that: in malpractice claims usually plaintiff must prove, “a case within a case.” The “case within a case” question is whether the underlying matter (if properly handled) would have resulted in a favorable result for the legal malpractice plaintiff.

Choose an expert attorney who has the courtroom experience to correctly state the foundation of his/her opinion under Daubert style tests or other evidence rule foundation tests. The gatekeeper functions that judges now exercise mandate an expert who understands the significance of Daubert style motions to exclude expert testimony and the information that should be presented to keep the opinion in evidence..

What you always want as an expert testifying about attorney fees: an attorney with credibility and experience. The content of the expert’s professional resume is always important.

Best experts know the following about writing their report.

  • The date to write a report
  • Legal requirements regarding Rule 26 expert reports and reports used in summary judgment motions.
  • How to express factual assumptions
  • How to state opinions and conclusions
  • Avoiding vague, equivocal and uncertain reports and opinions
  • The importance of research
  • Properly disclosing documents reviewed
  • Preparing and disclosing visual aids to be used in testimony.

Don’t hire an expert for both advice on handling the case and also testifying. An expert who acts both as a consultant and a witness knows strategic information which is discoverable. First, during discovery, there is a tension trying to keep from discovery his/her evaluations of strengths and weakness of the your case or the adverse case. Second, at trial, the judge or jury probably will suspect the expert as being more advocate advising you than impartial expert whom they can trust.

How do you save money in asking for an expert’s opinion? Save the expert’s time and your money by preparing a chronology time line of events with pertinent documents. Organize what you send the expert, so his/her time is not wasted sorting and finding out what is there.

When should you hire an expert? The use of experts is greatly enhanced by early retention of the expert. Early retention may avoid unnecessary costs of proceeding with a case that is not viable. And early retention allows you to time to get information that the expert requests. (In other words, do not let the time for discovery run out before the expert’s opinion is needed.)

Important Advice on Taking the Other Side’s Expert’s Deposition. When taking the other side’s expert’s deposition, bring your own expert with you. Should you miss asking important questions or need to follow up on certain lines of inquiry, you at least would have your own expert there to give you advice and counseling on what your expert needs or wants to have. Your expert also will be then a stronger witness in your case, as a result of seeing and hearing the adverse expert.