Thanks to the popularity of serials such as ‘Law and Order’, the expectations that jurors have from expert witnesses are very high. Regardless of whether you’re on the plaintiff’s side or on the defense’s and regardless of the type of case you’re handling – petty theft or accident investigation – you will probably face a lot of pressure when it comes to hiring expert witnesses to support your case. These days, expert witnesses are expected to look and sound like their highly polished television ‘counterparts’. This is not exactly a cheery prospect for lawyers because they know that few real life expert witnesses can actually manage such aplomb in the face of intense cross-examination. Keeping all these factors in mind, here are a few things you need to look for when hiring an expert witness.
Your Expert Needs to Look Reliable
Unfair as it may seem, jurors will judge the reliability of the expert witness by their appearance. Therefore, you need to make sure that your expert looks like an expert. The best way to go about it is to make sure that you meet them in person and assess how professional they appear. If you can’t meet them, try to look at their photographs on brochures or websites. An expert from, say, the music industry will probably get away with being a bit faddish and wearing casual clothes. However, if your expert witness is a DNA expert, they will need to dress more professionally.
Your Expert Needs to Connect with the Jury
Remember that most of the experts you hire are experts in their field. Their communication skills, on the other hand, may leave a lot to be desired. You do not want an expert witness who drones on and on about the intricacies of their field, using jargon that no one but another expert can comprehend. You need someone who can explain to the jury (which is largely composed of laypersons) what they’re talking about in a way that is easy for the jurors to understand. Test the oral communication skills of your expert, not just their written skills. Ask them open-ended questions and listen to what they have to say. If what they’re talking about is Greek and Latin to you, if they put more than one thought in a sentence, if they keep using jargon instead of explaining things in layman’s terms, you probably need to look elsewhere.
Your Expert Needs to Make Eye Contact
This might be an old saw, but it is a very important one. People tend to judge someone by whether that person is willing to look them in the eyes or at least make eye contact. If the expert you’re considering does not make eye contact with you while talking, they are probably not going to do it with the jury either. You don’t want an expert who stares into space or up at the ceiling and takes time to process their thoughts. They’re not likely to get much traction with the jury. While you could make them practice the eye contact, it may not be a worthwhile exercise.
Your Expert Should Be Able to Work with Visual Aids
Expert witnesses are often called to discuss diagrams, charts, evidence, models and other such visual aids. However, not all experts are good at using such aids. Find out beforehand whether the expert you’re considering can work with such visuals. Ask them to demonstrate how they would explain a chart or a piece of evidence to the jury. Assess how comfortable they are working with these types of visuals. If they seem uncomfortable, you need to reconsider hiring them.
In the end, the testimony of expert witnesses is what helps to make or break a case. How they present their testimony and showcase their experience can go a long way in helping you win your case. They need to present their opinions, analyses and knowledge in a way that the jurors not only understand but can actually visualize. Ensure that you take your time, consider each expert carefully and either find the right one or work with them to present the best possible face to the jurors.