Persuasion is key in court cases and one of the best tools to persuade the jury is an expert witness. Witnesses are brought in for trials as tools to strengthen your claims and overall case through their expert testimony. Experts have advanced knowledge on specific topics and the ability to explain difficult concepts to help educate and persuade the jurors. However, persuasiveness is only as strong as the credibility of the source. The less credible the expert witness seems, the less their ability to educate the jurors and thus to persuade them in the way you had planned. Many times, there are opposing experts that have dissenting opinions to that of your expert. This makes measuring the credibility of both your expert witness and the opposition’s expert witness a very important step. The most believable and credible expert will give their side the edge. You, as a Plaintiff’s attorney, may review experts’ backgrounds, previous testimony, and credentials when assessing whether or not to use them in your case. However, in the end, your personal view of the expert matters very little. Your job is to simply make sure that they meet all the requirements to be used as an expert in court and that they have a strong track record. The only view of the experts that really matter is that of the jury. Attorneys have a good idea of what a judge would deem an expert and the criteria they must meet to be used as an expert in a court case, but most attorneys have little understanding of whether or not those expert witnesses are viewed as credible by the people who make the actual case decision, the jury.
What Makes Your Witness Credible to Jurors?
This is likely the most obvious and expected factor of the four listed. Though you get an idea of the knowledge of an expert witness through their education, experience, and certifications, observed knowledge differs from that of on-paper credentials. Knowledge in this context refers to the expert witness’ ability to effectively explain the content they are discussing. From the view of a juror, they must be able to comprehend what the witnesses are discussing and view the expert’s explanation as plausible based on their limited understanding of the topic. Using many difficult terms and jargon will not increase their perceived knowledge or credibility of the witness and may actually have a negative effect. It is important for witnesses to be able to effectively explain the topic as if they were speaking to a layman, which is what makes up the majority of juries. The use of visual aids and non-verbal communications such as hand gestures can greatly increase the jurors’ views of the expert’s knowledge of the topic. Using jargon but then thoroughly explaining the concept can help remedy the negative effect that large amounts of jargon can have on a jury’s perception of the expert witness’ knowledge.
Perceived trustworthiness is of great importance because it can supersede the other three factors listed. This means that if the perceived trustworthiness of an expert witness is low, the view of the other three factors will be diminished and likely be insignificant. Even if you have the most notable expert from the most prestigious school, if they are unable to portray themselves as trustworthy, they will undoubtedly be deemed a poor expert and negatively affect your case. It is important, again, to view this factor as perceived, meaning it is an observed factor. The expert you hire can have a spotless record and reputation with no signs of any deception or troubles, but the jury can still perceive them as untrustworthy. Trustworthiness in this context refers to an expert’s ability to portray themselves as intelligent and confident as well as being able to efficiently explain the material they are discussing in a way that makes it seem believable. Some verbal, non-verbal, and linguistic problems can portray a lack of trustworthiness, such as demeaning answers, laughing at questions, and signs of worry or distress.
Confidence is likely to be a factor that you expect an expert to portray. When someone is deemed an expert, they should be able to confidently answer questions with their expert opinions without pausing or second-guessing their answers. Perceived confidence involves an expert witness effectively discussing a topic, quickly and efficiently replying to questions, and staying on topic. It is important for an expert witness to be able to answer their questions without going back to notes or taking a break, either of these things portrays the expert as being unsure of the answer or afraid their answer may be “wrong” or not what the hiring party wants to hear. There are verbal, nonverbal, and linguistic variables that can portray an expert as lacking confidence. Some examples of these are repetitively pausing, saying exclamations such as “um” and “uh”, showing signs of distress or worry, and physically moving or fidgeting.
What Can Be Done to Get the Best Experts?
You pay a lot of money to experts in hopes they can be beneficial to your case by persuading jurors with their expert opinions and descriptions of complex topics. However, their expert opinion and testimony are only as strong as a jury’s perception of them. As stated earlier, the information is only as credible as its source. You can spend hours evaluating specific types of experts or pay a company to get one for you, but in the end, neither you nor the company you hire knows how that expert will be viewed by jurors.