Hiring Expert Witnesses

By John Allison, J.D., The Coach for Lawyers, LLC

Hiring an Expert WitnessExpert witnesses can express opinions about matters within the scope of their expertise.  They are indispensable in cases involving medical, scientific or technical issues.  Expert witnesses who are able to explain their opinions in understandable terms can help you present a persuasive case.

An expert you hire to give testimony should be highly qualified and credible.  If the expert is going to testify in a jury trial, he or she should also be likeable.  Jurors do not like experts who are arrogant or condescending.  They also do not like experts who become angry or defensive on cross-examination.

Make sure the expert has not previously given testimony or published anything inconsistent with the opinions he or she will express in your case.  Read the publications listed on the expert’s curriculum vitae that are relevant to the issues on which you plan to have the expert testify.  Ask the expert about his or her prior testimony in other cases.  Go online to see whether you find information suggesting the expert has taken positions inconsistent with the opinions the expert will express in your case.

An online search will also help you avoid hiring expert witnesses who will be vulnerable to impeachment for bias.  These include experts who earn most of their income from their work as an expert witness, experts whose testimony has been excluded by courts on Daubert, Frye or similar grounds, experts who express opinions on too many different topics to be credible, and experts who come across as advocates with an axe to grind.

When retaining an expert, remember that your retention letter will probably be discoverable by the opposing party.  Be careful what you write.


About the Author
John Allison practiced law for a number of years as a law firm partner in Seattle and as Assistant General Counsel at 3M Company, and now provides coaching, mentoring and law practice consulting services for lawyers.  He has written three books, including The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers.  For more information, visit www.coachlawyers.com.