How Does an Expert Witness Prepare for Trial?

medical school student studying in the library

Expert witnesses are an essential element for a variety of legal proceedings. If you are preparing for litigation and you need an expert in your corner, it is important to ensure that your chosen expert is well-prepared for testimony at trial. Continue reading for tips on how you can help prepare your expert witness for effective use at trial.

Thorough Preparation on the Facts of the Case

Experts base their opinions on fact, research, and clinical testing (where appropriate). It is absolutely vital for any expert witness to be very thorough with their preparation. They should have a very solid foundation not only of the scientific principles at play but also with the facts of the case. An expert should not refer to a medical diagnosis as having been made in 2009 when the diagnosis was actually made in 2015, when the date of diagnosis is relevant both to proper treatment and whether the defendant is liable. Stating incorrect facts undermines their credibility to the judge and the jury and calls into question other opinions they may have offered on the case.

Brushing up on Important Legal Concepts

Scientific experts are not legal experts. They may not know that referring to a medical treatise as “reasonably reliable” opens the door for opposing counsel to impeach that piece of evidence. When you are preparing your expert witness for trial, make sure that they are aware of important legal concepts at play, including the standards for admissibility, the standards for liability (e.g., whether it’s important to clarify that something “could have changed the outcome” vs. “likely changed the outcome” of an event), and others. Your witness is an expert in their field, not the nuances of legal standards.

Practicing Examination and Deposition

A witness may be the most qualified expert in their field, but if they cannot express themselves clearly at trial, then the jury will gain nothing from their presence. It can also be devastating to an expert’s credibility to have them get tripped up by opposing counsel’s questioning. It’s important for attorneys to prepare experts for trial by putting them through the wringer.

Practice asking questions and eliciting answers from the expert, as would happen at deposition or trial. The expert should practice answering questions without over-reliance on scientific jargon, keeping in mind that they are explaining concepts to a lay jury. Make sure to practice cross-examination. Ask tough questions, ask confusing questions, ask personal questions that seem irrelevant. The expert needs to be able to remain calm and authoritative under pressure from opposing counsel, and nothing helps like practice.

Refreshing Themselves on Their Own Qualifications

If you are presenting an expert witness at trial, you want to make sure that the jury is dazzled by their qualifications. The jury must believe this person is the foremost expert on the topic at hand. Doctors might not be used to touting all of their accomplishments, so it’s important to prepare them to brag when it matters. They should be ready to state their education and specialty, list relevant papers they’ve written and research projects they’ve worked on, and refer to specific procedures they have performed that relate to the issue at hand. If they have treated hundreds of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, that’s incredibly important to elicit in a matter that revolves around the mental state of a party.

Of course, only relevant experience matters. Practical experience closely related to the subject matter at hand should be presented first and foremost. Do not encourage an expert to talk about their various pet projects that are unrelated to the case lest they confuse the jury or, even worse, turn the jury against them.

Prepare Demonstrative Aids

Verbal testimony from the bench can drag on, becoming boring or confusing for the jury. If possible and appropriate, you should prepare your expert to get up on their feet and demonstrate concepts with visual demonstratives. The more they are seen as a teacher, rather than as a hired-gun deliverer of complex facts, the more the jury will engage.

If you are a litigant in need of expert mental health testimony or a healthcare provider who would benefit from a variety of educated, experienced, professional psychiatric care specialists, reach out to Orbit Health to discuss your options for telepsychiatry today.

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