Expert witnesses are frequently used in the courtroom by attorneys. While many qualified experts exist, the “right” expert can greatly assist counsel and the litigation with his or her testimony.
An expert witness can offer testimony about a scientific, technical or professional issue in a court case. Finding the right expert is often a difficult task, but attorneys generally look for several attributes when selecting expert witnesses.
Smart Business spoke with John T. Alfonsi, managing director, Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC, about the qualities attorneys look for in an expert witness.
What are the key attributes an expert witness should possess?
Attorneys generally seek an expert witness who possesses at least four attributes: Relevant professional experience; a history of testimony in which that person has represented both plaintiffs and defendants; active involvement in his or her field of expertise; credentials.
Why are professional experience and testimony history both key qualities?
Opposing counsel may try to discredit an expert witness by demonstrating a lack of relevant business and/or courtroom experience. Though a potential expert may have years of experience, this does not necessarily mean he or she has a high level of expertise in the specific area of the case, or that his or her experience demonstrates the unbiased nature that an expert must possess.
For example, some experts have only provided their services on behalf of either the defendant or plaintiff. Such a track record might be used by opposing counsel to infer a bias on the part of the expert, even if the bias does not exist.
Why is active involvement an essential quality of an expert witness?
Active involvement often manifests itself in an expert’s writing and speech; both are key elements of his or her testimony. Experts who contribute to their field generally pride themselves on having a thorough understanding of the subject matter. They may be most up to date on recent rulings and opinions regarding relevant analytical techniques, and will generally ensure their testimony complies with these items.
Active involvement may also manifest in the expert’s ability to convey findings to nontechnicians. Experts primarily work with individuals who readily understand the technical terms and analytical methods of the field. This peer group may be quite different from a judge or jury pool.
Involved experts will recognize this difference and have a profound understanding of their area of expertise so they can better articulate their findings.
Do attorneys generally look for specific credentials in selecting an expert witness?
Attorneys generally engage experts who hold credentials in their field, requiring the expert to pass rigorous tests, participate in continuing education programs and/or possess significant related experience. Multiple credentials adhering to such criteria might exist in some fields.
For instance, business valuation credentials fitting the previously mentioned criteria include: Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA), Certified Business Appraiser (CBA) and Accredited Senior Appraiser (ASA). No one credential is generally better than the other, but credentials generally emphasize the expert’s commitment to his or her profession and understanding of the technical issues.
Is analytical ability the most important attribute of an expert?
It is a key attribute, but sometimes not the most important. Though an expert may have strong analytical abilities, it is important that he or she be able to articulate his or her findings in a clear and concise manner, both on the stand and in written testimony.
To specifically address this issue, some experts purposefully make liberal use of visual tools, including graphs and flowcharts, and include detailed explanations to ensure findings are well articulated and written at a level that nonbusiness professionals can fully comprehend. These experts might also assume a reader has little- understanding of the technical aspects of the case, or of the analytical methods employed.
This strategy helps ensure a reader or listener will not be confused by necessary technical jargon or methods that might otherwise be nonintuitive to a layperson. ●
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