The educational background of an expert witness is one of the considerations involved in the expert selection process. There is a distinction between the quality of education versus the quantity of degrees. While the number of degrees possessed by an expert can certainly be of value, understanding the quality of such degrees is of equal importance. Factors such as the accreditation, reputation, and the type educational institute can contribute to the overall perception of an expert witness at trial.
The date a degree was attained by an expert, as well as the progression in education should be taken into consideration while assessing an expert’s educational background. It is helpful to view the entire educational background chronologically, while considering any inferences that can be made from the presence of gaps in time between education, or the length of time in attaining a degree when compared to customary time lengths.
In some cases, extended gaps in time may have served to benefit the expert’s overall educational process, such as when an expert was employed or gains further experience in a field directly associated with a master’s degree, and then subsequently returns to school to attain a higher degree in that particular field or a specialized subsection of that field. In other cases, negative implications may arise from extended gaps in time between educations. It’s generally wise to inquire with an expert witness about his or her education history as part of the qualification process.
Some experts received an education aboard and it is usually acceptable if the expert witness is licensed and/or board certified in his or her area of practice. Litigators vetting an expert should determine if the foreign education is comparable to education received in accredited educational institutions in the United States, if the education degree is relevant in that specific area of expertise.
Litigators should also review an expert’s participation in continuing education. For many experts, their continuous education and training are necessary to maintain certification and licenses. It also reflects the expert’s effort to stay up-to-date on the industry best practices. Credentials that demonstrate extensive continuing education can often signify specialized expertise in a distinct subpart or parts of a particular discipline.
In some cases, the nature of the dispute and the issues involved demand a precise level of degree, such as medical experts. In other cases, an expert’s overall skills, experience, reputation amongst peers, and other relevant factors, can make one expert a more appropriate choice over another. Keeping in mind that not every dispute requires an expert with a doctorate level degree or its equivalency, can prevent the initial rejection of potential experts who may have been the best choice. Making this determination, however, must be done on a case by case basis.
As a final corresponding thought, the proper assessment of an expert’s educational background demands a simultaneous analysis of any other factors contributing to an expert’s level of expertise. We encourage you to view our other resources associated with the expert selection process.
By: Alicia McKnight, J.D.