July 20, 2015 Articles

Becoming an Expert at Experts: A Guide for Young Attorneys

Learning how to retain, communicate with, and prepare witnesses is a critical skillset that can help in developing experienced litigators

by Travis J. McDermott

Expert testimony can be crucial in litigation and often shapes the outcome of the case. This is true not only of the small subset of cases that go to trial; well-prepared and knowledgeable expert witnesses often drive settlement discussions.

For a young attorney, dealing with experts can be daunting. Identifying when to use an expert, searching for and retaining experts, and making initial inquiries are all difficult for junior attorneys, who likely have never dealt with experts before receiving the assignment to find one. Tasks like assisting in preparing an expert report or affidavit can only be done well with experience, but some simple guidelines can put you in position to succeed. There are numerous pitfalls to be wary of: maintaining privilege, providing information, challenging assumptions, and ensuring stated opinions are properly supported, for starters. Dealing with opposing experts is particularly challenging for a young attorney, as experts are not only knowledgeable in their field, but also generally experienced witnesses.

Remember: Experts can be an exceptional resource. Once you become familiar with the role experts play in litigation, working with experts can be one of the most interesting aspects of litigation practice.

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