Being an expert witness is serious business. Anyone who takes the witness stand needs to have impeccable credentials and extensive experience in their field, as well as be objective and able to communicate effectively to judge and jury.
David Katz, founder and chief executive officer of Global Security Group, was a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration for 15 years before founding his company. He has worked on multiple cases as an expert witness, either as an investigator or as an expert on ballistics and firearms training and qualifications. “I know things that only a small segment of the population knows,” he says. “Being an expert witness allows me to use my background, training, and experience to have a positive effect and not allow a person to be convicted unjustly.”
For Nevium LLC principal Brian Buss, who has been an expert witness in intellectual properties valuations and damages for nearly 10 years, being an expert witness is like working on a puzzle. “You never get all the information you want, so you have to find the missing pieces or have an analytical approach that stands up even though you don’t have all the pieces,” he says. “It’s like a brain teaser challenge, and someone will win or lose based on your evaluations.”
Are you considering becoming an expert witness? Katz and Buss provided five questions to ask yourself to help determine if you’re qualified.
Are you credible?
Whether you’re an arborist, zoologist, or anything in between, you must have an established career and be able to answer questions about every part of your industry. “You have to be the authority, and be able to match opinion with anyone you encounter,” says Katz.
He suggests staying in your wheelhouse. For example, a pediatrician shouldn’t be an expert witness for testimony that needs a surgeon’s expertise. It’s also imperative to stay up to date on changes within your industry. “There’s always a new case or court ruling, new rules or laws,” says Buss. “It’s part of my daily routine to stay informed about company developments and new technology.”
Are you an effective communicator?
A large part of being a witness involves teaching lawyers, the judge, and the jury about your subject. “You have to be somewhat professorial, educating people on the basics and explaining tactically how something happens,” says Katz. Having a clear, down-to-earth communication style is key.
Are you calm, cool, and collected?
After you’ve worked with your lawyers to lay out the case and your opinion, the opposing counsel will try to prove you wrong. Being able to handle cross-examination takes a certain type of personality. “You have to be the kind of person who can be attacked and not take it personally,” says Buss.
Katz agrees. “Cross-examination is withering; it can be seven or eight hours in one day. It’s brutal. But it’s also kind of fun,” he says.
Are you consistent?
It’s vital that you haven’t established a pattern as someone who changes your opinions or beliefs throughout your career. If you have, opposing counsel will uncover it – and use the information against you. “If you have ever testified differently or written an article with a different opinion, they will find out,” says Katz. “Not only does opposing counsel do deep internet searches on you, but they will also talk to people who know you.”
Do you have the time to dedicate to the case?
Being an expert witness is a material commitment. After reviewing all the evidence and writing an expert report, you then have to be deposed and potentially testify in court. All these steps take a considerable amount of time and can sometimes occur quickly in succession or be drawn out over months or even years. “You are never the captain of the litigation ship,” says Buss. “You need to be willing to work on their schedules.”
If your answers to these questions are yes, you might have the credentials and demeanor to be an effective expert witness. It can be both an intellectually-rewarding and financially-lucrative subsidy to your primary employment – or, if your skills are in enough demand, could even become a full-time job of its own.
Erin Quinn-Kong writes for GLG Law, the platform that connects professionals with opportunities to serve as an expert witness. Erin has written for a number of publications, including The Alcade, OpenTable.com, and Woman’s Day and served as the former editor-in-chief of Austin Monthly and editor at Allure and Us Weekly.