There are many reasons why expert testimony is essential. Maybe you need a construction expert witness to explain the structural safety of a building? Or a medical expert to describe the difference between a compound fracture and a hairline fracture? Or maybe an actuarial expert to explain how she determined lost wages or compensatory damages? Whatever the field, they each have something in common: their testimony needs to be translated into everyday English.
As a litigator, you know your case well. And even though you’re an attorney and not a scientific expert, you probably should know the basic science behind your case.
I know many attorneys who specialize in medical malpractice who appear to know almost as much as a medical doctor.
Clearly, it’s good to be knowledgeable in your expert witness’ field. But I’ve seen more than a few trial attorneys have very highbrow conversations and arguments with expert witnesses on direct or cross examination, but forgetting that the jury is new to the topic.
As an attorney, you should translate for the juror for complex matters. And when it comes to clarifying the testimony of an expert witness, you are the jury’s proxy.
Keep in mind that the jurors are laymen. So you should be a layman and become that 13th juror. To avoid making the jury feel offended or patronized, ask the expert witness to explain the concept in simpler terms for YOU – because YOU want to get a better understanding.
The best way to persuade a jury is to walk in their shoes. You’ll get plenty of other opportunities to show just how smart you are. But when an expert is testifying, let the expert witness be the smartest guy in the room.
By: Ian Heller, J.D.