Need to pick an expert witness? How do you do that? What’s most important? Experience? Experience testifying? Materials written? Track record testifying? Yeah, all that’s good, and should be considered. But what’s most important? What will impress the jury most?
Honesty. I’ll never forget one of my early jury trials when the jury was filing out for a recess, at the conclusion of my expert’s testimony. Two of the jurors stopped at the witness stand, held out their hands, and thanked him for his testimony. Why did they do that?
I thought much about this afterwards. He was not a smooth, debonair witness with expensive clothing. He did not testify for a living. In fact, the subject of his testimony was a study he had completed because he had an interest in the effects of strip mine blasting on nearby homes. Several times during his testimony he had to answer “I don’t know.” Several times he said that his study didn’t address the question proffered. He didn’t try to persuade, he merely told that jury what they needed to know, and what they didn’t need to know.
I think they knew he was honest.
How do you determine an expert’s honesty? Many times, you just can’t do it…but try. I ask my potential expert about references, and then call them. I call all lawyers who have used him before. I even call lawyers who have cross-examined him. In other words, investigate. I don’t rely upon his or her resume. After all, have you ever seen one which says “honest?”
Not only does this help to win the case, but it also makes for better sleep at night. After all, trials should not be just about winning; it’s winning with integrity.
Oh, and thanks went to Dr. Eugene Carden of the University of Alabama. If you didn’t know, we won.