As the name implies, an expert witness has expertise in their profession, field or craft. Before you can work as an expert witness, by definition you must be an expert. While that sounds simple, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Remember the words of Albert Einstein when he said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Being an expert in your field is a good start to be sure, but it is hardly enough to make you a good expert witness. Look at potential cases through the lens of whether you can offer valuable expert opinions related to the case. You should only accept work that falls within your area of expertise.
Here some things you should consider before deciding to be an expert witness.
Have an up to date Curriculum Vitae (CV). You will need a good CV to let prospective clients know what you have to offer. Your CV should be a detailed description of your knowledge, education, experience, training, skills, awards and accomplishments. You should include associations, certifications, publications and relevant accomplishments that highlight your experience and abilities. There are plenty of examples of CV’s online you can review for guidance.
Never exaggerate your knowledge or skills. You might convince a prospective client that you are the preeminent expert on all things related to your field during an initial engagement, but if you have a limited area of expertise the truth will surface. First and foremost, you need to know what you know! More importantly you need to know what you don’t know and be honest with yourself and others about it. Attorneys are experts in uncovering the truth.
Assess your ability to present your opinions in a clear and concise manner. Will you be able to remain level-headed under examination by attorneys during deposition and trial? You must be able to write detailed factual reports, and clearly explain technical details verbally and in writing to attorneys, judges and jurors. If you are comfortable with presenting information and opinions, you are one step closer to becoming a successful expert witness.
Stay current and relevant in your field of expertise. Recently, I was asked in court when was the last time I operated a ship to shore container crane. An innocent sounding question, designed to find out if I had real and current knowledge of this crane, and to try to impeach me if I did not. Fortunately, I had recently operated this type of crane and the attorney moved on to another line of questioning.
Be prepared to say no! Not every job is a good fit. Often an attorney will contact you to talk about a potential case and to see if you are the right person for the job. Listen carefully to what he or she has to say. Do you believe your opinions would add value to the case?
Make sure you are qualified to give opinions on the case. The Daubert Standard as it is known, allows a judge to disqualify an expert if he or she feels the expert is about to give testimony that is outside of his or her area of expertise. Don’t allow your testimony to stray outside of your area of expertise.
Do you have conflicts with clients or other cases you are currently working on? If so, let the attorney know. If you feel you are not a good fit, do you know another expert that may be a better fit? If so, let your client know as well. The client will respect you for your honesty and the expert you recommend will appreciate the lead.
It is important to give back to the profession that you are passionate about. Share your expertise. Write an article related to your profession and submit it to a professional or trade journal. Offer readers some new information or a new perspective. Volunteer on professional boards or committees. These activities may help you gain recognition as an expert and improve your credentials, but that should not be your primary reason for serving.
If you have expertise in your field, have good comprehension, can articulate your thoughts through writing and speaking, you might have what it takes to be an expert witness. But remember, never stray from your area of expertise.