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Searching for the Ideal Expert Witness: Key Strategies for Children’s Lawyers

Diann Kelly


  • Expert witnesses play a crucial role in court cases involving children, providing structure, nuance, and affirmation to evidence presented.
  • Ideal expert witnesses typically possess at least 10 years of experience in their field, contribute to scholarly journals or books, and have a positive reputation among peers.
  • Attorneys should identify the specific expertise required for their case and utilize various resources such as legal communities, universities, scholarly journals, and professional associations to find suitable experts.
  • Expectations of an expert include being an educator, objective, a leader in their field, reliable, and capable of communicating effectively with the court.
Searching for the Ideal Expert Witness: Key Strategies for Children’s Lawyers

When preparing a case for court, you want elements that will convince the judge and jury of the merits of your case. You want evidence that will sway the court to your side on whatever issue you are litigating for your child client. Key expert witnesses can assist in that endeavor.

Expert witnesses have the profound opportunity to provide structure, nuance, and affirmation to the evidence presented before the court. But how do you secure an expert witness? Where do you look?

Characteristics of an Excellent Expert Witness

Cases involving children vary from child welfare to juvenile justice to education to child custody. Experts might weigh in on a variety of issues in these cases including placement, visitation, scientific evidence, and competence, and afford the judge and jury an opportunity to evaluate evidence or to consider the safety and best interest of the child.

Brian Cutler and Margaret Kovera’s 2011 article Expert Psychological Testimony states experts are to be objective and impartial. They are to lend their knowledge and skills to assist the judge and jury to determine the merits of the case. According to Cutler and Kovera, the expert witness should have specialized knowledge, education, and training to offer an objective expert testimony. The expert is an educator to the court—their training and skills give structure to their testimony.

According to some research, expert witnesses should have a minimum of 10 years in their field, have contributed to literary journals or books, and have a good reputation among their peers. So, when looking for an expert witness, look into their standing. What journals are they published in, and what is the journal’s impact value? What books have they written or contributed to? What organizations do they belong to, and do they have leadership roles in those organizations? These are critical elements to determining goodness-of-fit for selecting an expert witness. The attorney should put together a profile of the ideal expert and initiate a search for that candidate.

Finding an Expert Witness

Look at your case and identify the salient aspects involved. What type of case do you have? What is the issue at hand? What do you need your expert to specialize in? Do they have a strong understanding of child and adolescent development? Do they have a sub-specialty within their area of expertise?

To find an expert, you can consult other lawyers in your community, local or national list serves, experts you already have a relationship with, and local universities. You can also consult journals, for example:

Not only should you look at who is writing the peer-reviewed article, but also how often they are cited. The number of times an expert is cited speaks to the reputation and validity of the individual and their work. In addition to scholarly work, look into their bureaus and professional associations. The National Association of Social Workers as well as the American Psychological Association are instrumental in helping attorneys locate ideal experts. Finally, the Round Table Group is a resource which helps attorneys find experts.

Expectations of an Expert Witness

The expectations an attorney should have of an expert are the following:

  • the expert is an educator;
  • the expert is objective;
  • the expert is a leader or an emerging leader in the field of interest;
  • the expert is reliable in their knowledge of the subject matter; and
  • the expert is articulate and can translate professional jargon to layman's language.

Of course, the judge will determine the admissibility of an expert witness. However, it is up to the legal team to ensure the expert meets the standards required to provide an objective skilled testimony.


How do you best convince a judge and jury to support your position? Find an expert to help see the decision is the one that best benefits your child client.