Working With Expert Witnesses - Tips For Attorneys

It is easier than ever to find experts through the internet, including through expert witness directory offered on this site. The following tips should help you find better experts for your cases:

Seek Recommendations: When you are looking for an expert, seek recommendations from attorneys who have litigated similar cases.

Get References: Ask an expert for references, and follow up on the references. Find out how well the witness performs at deposition or trial, before making a costly error. You may not be able to get a supplemental or replacement expert if you later discover that your expert withers before a competent cross-examination.

Define Costs: Know how much your expert charges, and when you will have to pay additional charges (such as "rush fees" or travel expenses). If you don't discuss the expert's fees and how they are calculated, you may be surprised at how much you are billed for the expert's services.

Define Clear Expectations: When you hire an expert, be clear about what you expect the expert to do. If your expert will testify at trial, keep the expert appraised of trial dates so that scheduling conflicts can be resolved early.

Use your expert to help you develop your case: If you know as much or more than your expert, you are probably wasting your money by hiring an expert. As a general rule you should only hire experts who know more than you, and the utilize their knowledge to build your case. A good expert will come up with questions and theories that you are unlikely to discover on your own without your investment a vast amount of time and energy. Experts can often help you draft interrogatories prepare questions to ask at your depositions of your opponent's experts. Although you have to pay the expert for the time spent developing your case, you may find that the time you save is worth far more than the amount you pay.

Know the rules of discovery: If your expert prepares a report, know if you will have to turn it over to your opponent. Under the laws of some states, your opponent may not be able to secure your expert's report in civil litigation, but you may have to provide your expert's report to the prosecutor in criminal litigation. If your expert's report is subject to discovery, make sure that no report is prepared unless and until you are ready to provide it to opposing counsel. Let the expert know what portions of the expert's file constitute "work product," so that confidential material is not accidentally disclosed to your opponent.

Don't prematurely destroy the other side's expert: If you have a means of undermining the opposing expert's testimony or theory of the case, save it for when you can deliver a knock-out punch. In one notable case, a bright yet inexperienced attorney did a remarkable job of demolishing the credibility and conclusions of the expert at deposition. At the end of the deposition, the attorney gloated, "If you're going to take this case to trial, you had better get a better expert." The opponent did just that, and won at trial. Had the attorney saved his devastating impeachment for trial, he probably would have won the case.

Cost isn't everything: The least expensive expert I have ever used gave one of the best trial performances I have ever seen. The jury respected him and believed him, found him exceptionally knowledgeable, and his "plain language" explanation of some complex technical issues was a decisive factor in obtaining a verdict in my client's favor.

Copyright © 2005 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was first published on Feb 1, 2005, and was last reviewed or amended on Aug 21, 2016.