Everything You Need to Know Before You Hire an Expert Witness
When you’re headed into a court battle, eyewitnesses and hard evidence are key components of your case. However, whether you’re defending yourself or seeking justice or compensation, there’s another tool you can use to help prove your case and walk away with optimal results: An expert witness.
An expert witness can make or break a case due to their high level of knowledge on a topic pertinent to the case. If you hire the right one, they can take even a struggling case and turn it around for the better due to the credibility they add to the information you’re presenting. Of course, if you hire the wrong expert witness, it can quickly work against you.
With this being something that can go either way, it’s important for you to have as much information regarding expert witnesses as possible before you attempt to hire one. Today, we’re going to go over all the information you need to know before committing to one.
Let’s get started.
What is an Expert Witness?
An expert witness is different from your standard form of court witness. Usually, a witness is someone who happened to see the events being discussed as they took place, or they heard something that’s important, and they might even just be there to prove the defendant’s character in general.
An expert witness isn’t as informal. They’re professionals in specific fields of study who often meet with any relevant parties, make an evaluation, and then present their professional opinion on the matter to the court.
A good example of this would be a psychiatrist brought into a case to help prove that the defendant in a violent crime case had some sort of mental condition, whether permanent or temporary, that could have caused them to commit the crime in question. The psychiatrist would be hired, meet with the defendant to make a full assessment, and then would take the stand to provide the judge, jury, and attending parties with their findings.
Noticed that we said they give their professional opinion? Also, note that they are under oath just like any other individual to take the stand. Hiring an expert witness can work in your favor if you are prudent about your research and understand your case well, but it can easily work against you if you hire them, and their findings don’t necessarily match what you’re trying to present to the court.
There is also the concern of hiring a good expert witness. Just like people in any other field, some expert witnesses are knowledgeable enough in their specific field to be a boon, and some might not be a good fit for the court. We’ll go over that more, later on.
What to Look for in an Expert Witness
After you and your legal team have gone over your case and determined that an expert witness is appropriate, it’s not as simple as hiring the first candidate you come across. You need to be careful with your decision and ensure that you’re hiring someone that is going to work for your case; not against it.
Unfortunately, an expert witness doesn’t have to disagree with your claim to work against your case; they can simply be a bad fit.
So, let’s go over some of the things you need to look at before you settle on a potential expert witness.
What are the Expert Witness’s Qualifications?
An expert witness is supposed to be someone at the top of their field; not a random, first-year practitioner in whatever field comes to mind. To ensure you achieve positive results with your case, you need to ensure that your expert witness has several qualifying factors that add credibility to their statements and ensure they know what they’re doing.
You should start by looking at the candidate’s educational background, academic history, and any professional organizations or societies they’ve earned their way into. These are all good signs that the individual has established themselves in their field over the course of decades; not just a year or two when they’re just starting to blossom.
Beyond that, it’s a good idea to view any peer-reviewed journals they’ve published successfully and any awards they’ve earned throughout their careers. These accomplishments establish them as an authority, and it adds weight to their statements in the courtroom.
Courtrooms are not relaxing places that are great for a candid conversation. They’re high-pressure environments, and even miswording something slightly can impact a case negatively. It’s not ideal to get an expert witness who has never testified before. Not only will they be new to the courtroom’s high-intensity atmosphere and likely to make simple, yet damaging, mistakes, but they’re also unlikely to fully understand the litigation process and how things operate in the courtroom, leading to costly mistakes and embarrassing moments.
Instead, you want someone who is already well-acquainted with the courtroom. They should, optimally, have several years of experience testifying as expert witnesses and using their knowledge to help their clients win their cases.
However, this part isn’t as easy as asking a few questions and calling it a day. You need to put in some research of your own. Ask the candidate what trials they’ve testified in before. Look at the public records for those trials, and see how influential their testimony was in the cases they participated in. Even if they have 10 years of expert witness experience, if that experience wasn’t developed by actually influencing the outcome of the case in a positive manner for their clients, they’re of no use to you.
Determine Conflicts of Interest Early On
A conflict of interest can derail an otherwise smooth-sailing case, and unfortunately, experienced expert witnesses can easily end up with a conflict of interest due to how long they’ve been offering their expertise to the courtroom.
Your potential expert witness should not have any connection to you or the other party, and they should not have participated in trials previously with either of you. This can call their credibility into question, or it might be argued that their opinions are biased based on personal relationships or past experiences.
Beyond that, you also need to ensure they don’t hold any views, organization memberships, or anything else that might be considered a conflict of interest. For example, let’s say you need an expert witness to testify how costly it is to repair a rental property after a low-quality tenant moves out. You wouldn’t want to get the head of the construction firm you’re paying to renovate the property, as that is clearly a conflict of interest, and they can use their position in the case unfairly. That’s not typically something you’d use an expert witness for anyways, but it is a good illustration of the point.
You can help prevent those things from happening by asking the following questions:
· Do you know the opposing party?
· Do you have a relationship with anyone from our party?
· Have you ever been involved in a case involving either party?
· Do you have any personal attachments, whether ideological, professional, or personal, that would impact your opinion of this case?
If any of their answers are “yes” you need to look elsewhere for an expert witness. Your opposition can use any of those traits against you and possibly sway the case in their favor.
Why They’re Worth Hiring
In an interview, you’ve probably had the interviewer as you why you’re the right person for the job. They want to know what you have to offer the company that other job applicants don’t. When you’re interviewing a potential expert witness for your case, it’s imperative that you provide your would-be expert witness with that same opportunity to stand out from other options you’re considering.
While offering this opportunity, lookout for a few key points any good expert witness will bring up:
· Recent experience with similar trials.
· Notable cases they’ve influenced.
· Special knowledge they hold regarding the type of case you’re in and the litigation process that surrounds it.
· Various controversies often permeate cases similar to yours and how they work with those.
In general, if they can stand out from the rest in tangible ways, they’re worth hiring.
Get References and Proof of Performance
Asking questions is great, but you can’t just take their word for everything. You need to have second opinions, and of course, you need some evidence proving that their claims regarding their experience are true.
This requires you to get two things.
First, you need references. The best, most credible, references you can get are from lawyers they’ve worked with, in the courtroom, before. If another lawyer is willing to vouch for them, it’s a good sign that they’ll perform admirably in the high-stress environment of the courtroom.
Of course, nothing really beats hard evidence. Request recorded footage of trials they’ve been in and depositions they’ve given. This will let you watch the undebatable proof of how well they can perform in a courtroom setting.
Comparisons to Opposing Expert
Your opposition will have its own expert witness; ensuring that your witness comes out on top will go a long way towards winning your case.
The best way is to ensure there are ample differences between the two and that your expert represents your side of the case in as positive a light as possible. You can do this by simply asking the expert to describe how they differ from the opposition’s expert and how they plan to navigate the cross-examination process and other key parts of litigation more effectively than your opponent.
Criminal History and Courtroom Mishaps
Having a criminal history or another serious disciplinary history can get your expert witness removed from the case or prevented from ever testifying in the first place; derailing your entire case without notice.
This is for a very good reason. Imagine a surgeon was brought in to be an expert witness for a trial, and then it comes out that, that surgeon recently had a malpractice lawsuit brought against him and his license is on the line. Depending on the situation, that can damage the expert witness’s credibility severely and ruin the point of having him present in the first place. Not to mention, some instances might result in the witness being withheld from testifying entirely.
Make sure to ask about your expert witness’s criminal history and any professional discipline they’ve received, and if there are any instances you need to worry about, take a moment to get an explanation. If it’s not something that will affect the case, you might still be able to use them.
Defense or Plaintiff History
An expert witness will often be hired by both sides of the courtroom in different trials. So, after years of serving as an expert witness, your candidate should have a fairly equal ratio of defense testimonies and plaintiff testimonies on their record. If that ratio is lopsided, research the field they’re in and what type of cases they cover. It might be a common thing in their field. However, if it’s not, you need to look further to see if there’s an underlying issue such as bias causing the disproportionate participation in court proceedings.
The court isn’t cheap, and most expert witnesses demand a hefty fee in exchange for their verdict-swaying knowledge. So, it’s key to find out how much they charge before you commit to hiring them.
Typically, an expert witness worth hiring will cost around $365 per hour.
Finally, before your interview is over, you need to determine if there are any potential scheduling conflicts that might occur during the trial. You cannot afford to have your expert witness at a doctor’s appointment during a pivotal part of the case.
By getting any potential scheduling conflicts on the table early, you can decide whether it’s worth it to attempt to work something out, or if you need to go with another expert witness.
Make the Right Choice: Your Case Depends on It
Making the right choice when hiring an expert witness can make or break your case. If you need help finding the perfect expert witness for your case, contact The LITILI Group today.