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Want to be an expert witness?

What is an expert? To get technical for a second, the Federal Rules of Evidence defines an expert as, “If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.”

An expert is someone who knows something beyond common experience who can help the attorneys prove something they couldn’t prove otherwise. As an expert, you are allowed to give testimony in the form of an opinion or conclusion.

My definition of an expert is simply a teacher. More importantly though, a jurors’ definition of what an expert is also is a teacher.

A survey of 529 civil trials found that 86% involved expert testimony. So the good news for you, is there is a large market out there for expert witnesses and it pays well.

Attorneys often ask me: Who is perceived as a credible expert witness? Is there a “hired gun” effect on juror perceptions of expert witnesses? Is there any way to overcome the hired gun effect? Are there any ways to enhance the effectiveness of expert testimony?

And my answer to those questions is simply ‘yes’ to all the above.

When attorneys are looking to hire an expert, they aren't looking for someone who is going to completely support their case and everything they say. Instead, they are looking for these factors:

1. Credentials

A natural starting point for attorneys is to look at your credentials. Just note that the length of your resume may impress the attorney but it will not impress the jury. That doesn’t mean credentials are not important to a jury, it just means the length of the credentials is not as important. For example, treating doctors are more credible to a jury than expert doctors. Jurors will say that the expert doctor made all of these conclusions without ever meeting the patient. So keep in mind that you want to list your experience as much as you can with your credentials.

2. Teaching Skills; Ability to handle cross

You have to first teach the attorney as to what the issues are. If you can explain it clearly to him or her, the more apt they will be to hire you. You also have to be good at handling the unknown.

3. Personality

If the attorney finds you annoying, long winded, argumentative and egotistical, the chances are so too will the jury. So cut it. There is no room for ego on the stand. So if you want to get hired, leave it at the door.

4. Willingness to Prepare

Jurors will pick up experts that have studied the case and one who has given only a cursory glance at the evidence before forming an opinion. I have spent many hours with experts who have prepared and those who have not. Those who have not and show up the night before unprepared are the ones who do not get hired again. While you may think it is a pain to prepare, it is essential to know the material backwards and forwards so that you can prepare how to actually best deliver the information you know to the jury.

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