Picking Experts For Trial

Published on February 21, 2020 by abovethelaw.com/
Your bad: Send me a few emails praising my column on trial strategy, and I’m likely to crank out more of those columns.

Like this one.

Here’s a thought on picking experts at trial.

Do not necessarily pick the most qualified person. Pick the expert who will resonate with the jury.

Here’s the story:

The question at trial was the value of a piece of African art.

The other side retained a leading expert in the field. She was the curator of the African art collection at a prominent European museum. She testified in French; a translator gave the English version of her testimony.

(At the start of her direct testimony, plaintiff’s counsel, who spoke fluent French, chatted with her for a while in French: Voulez vous this and parley vous that. The judge finally broke it up: “Okay. We have to conduct proceedings in this court in English.” I get up on cross: “Bonjour, madam.  Bonjour and soup du jour; that’s all my French.” You can go high or go low. I’m a low kind of guy.)

Anyway, we couldn’t find any curators of fancy museums to serve as our expert, so we hired a guy who taught college art and was a regular on the television series “Antiques Roadshow.”

We put our guy in the box.

He started giving his credentials.

He says that he appears on “Antiques Roadshow.”

The judge picks up his gavel, holds it in his hand, and says, “How much is this worth?”

Everyone smiles.

I’m doing my best to restrain myself. This whole trial turns on credibility. The curator says the piece of art is worth a fortune; our guy says that it’s junk.  And the judge just endorsed the credibility of our guy. The judge’s comment may have been a joke, but the judge asked our guy to put a value on something.

That can’t hurt.

The jurors look up.

We hear one of them whisper, “I’ve seen that guy on TV.”

Our guy finishes his testimony.

He hangs around for the last day of trial.

After the verdict, jurors are asking him for his autograph.

Who do you think won the case?

Remember: You may prefer a local expert to a national (or international) one.  An expert from the local state university is often better than an expert from Oxford. You may prefer a person with street cred to a person with academic credentials.

And the person with the most Ph.D.s is not necessarily the best expert witness.

Experience, Excellence, and Expertise - Jeff Hunt