The Effective Lawyer Episode 20: Working with Experts

 

The Effective Lawyer Podcast Episode 19 | Zinda Law Group

Summary

Join the Zinda Law Group team as it discusses the nuances of working with expert witnesses. Having an expert on your side can often make or break your case. The team discusses how to find the right experts, how to help manage the costs of those experts, techniques on impeaching the opposing party’s experts, and some advice for new attorney’s on how to handle experts in their own practice.

Jack Zinda is joined today by his law partners, Joe Caputo and Neil Solomon, one of the firm’s all-stars, Chrissy Hagen, and Zinda Law Group’s Brand Manager, Kelsey Balzli.

Discussed in this episode:

  • When working on liability cases, hire an expert right away.
  • Only hire experts that you have vetted, and that you believe are giving a professional, honest, and credible opinion.
  • Don’t forget about your budget. Be upfront with your experts about your budget, and about the potential for going through a trial process as well.
  • When impeaching an opposing party’s expert, your main goal is to attack their credibility so that all or part of their testimony can be struck from the record.
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Types of Expert Witnesses

When working on trucking cases, hire a liability expert right away. Reconstruction experts and fleet management experts are incredibly useful. Reconstruction experts can look at the data and construct a clear picture of the incident. Fleet management experts can give us a clearer picture of the hiring, training, & supervision causes of action.

“In any type of case like this, you have to secure the evidence as soon as possible” says Neil.

“The more the defense is trying to hide the evidence the better it is for our case," says Jack.

When/How to Hire an Expert Witness

Listservs are a great place to start, as well as talking with other attorneys that you may have worked with previously. There are also companies that will specialize in directing you to experts in a particular field—this works well for finding very specific experts.

“Be persistent...finding the right expert is really important and it’s not going to be the same one for every case” Jack says.

Vetting expert witnesses

Check your listserv resources and online to see what other attorneys have said about them. Read deposition transcripts that they have appeared on.  However, talking through the issues of the case will give you the clearest pictures of whether or not they are the right expert for you. Nothing replaces a direct conversation

“These people are often times taking all of the facts and spoon-feeding the jury your liability argument.” Joe says.

Ask them if they’ve ever been struck from the record, which is necessary to protecting your client.

Managing the costs for an expert witness

Pricing your expert our through the entire process, including trial. You want to have enough money available to take that expert witness through the trial phase.

“You don’t want to get into a situation where you took the depositions, you have the reports, & the case didn’t resolve so you have to go to trial but you’re out of money.” says Joe.

Have a frank conversation with the expert at the beginning and ask for a budget.

“I’ve learned to be super mindful about what documents I send an expert...” Chrissy says, “...so that we’re not sending things that are unnecessary that they’re going to charge us for reviewing.”

Witness consulting versus testifying

Sometimes you might retain a consulting expert who does not give an opinion that is particularly good for your case. In that instance you wouldn’t want them to testify on your behalf.

“If there’s some reason that we don’t want to use them we just keep them as a consulting expert and we don’t have to disclose them to anybody...” says Neil. “Now if they have a good opinion...we move them over, have them draft a report, and disclose them when the time comes...”

Impeaching an expert witness

Your main objective when taking the deposition of an opposing party’s expert is to strike or limit their testimony from the record. 

“We may have some really good impeachment evidence; we have to decide—do we want to hold onto that?...Or is it so good that we just can’t help ourselves” says Joe.

“You definitely want to attack their credibility” Chrissy says.

This also goes to show how important it is to be careful when selecting your own experts. You want them to be honest, professional, and credible.

“To really successfully attack an opposing party’s expert, you have to believe they’re not credible. And if that’s the case then you need to figure out why they’re not credible.” Jack says.

Advice for new attorneys handling expert witnesses

If you are hiring multiple liability experts, make sure your experts don’t contradict each other.

“I have one recommendation...the read and sign component...if you have them read and sign, that’s going to be an expensive endeavor.” Joe says.

“Use your experts for how you set up your discovery plan...it’s not just to get their own opinion, but to help you figure out what you need to get from the other side.” Neil says.

 

Key takeaways:

  • When working on liability cases, hire an expert right away.
  • Only hire experts that you have vetted, and that you believe are giving a professional, honest, and credible opinion.
  • Don’t forget about your budget. Be upfront with your experts about your budget, and about the potential for going through a trial process as well.
  • When impeaching an opposing party’s expert, your main goal is to attack their credibility so that all or part of their testimony can be struck from the record.

Links:

 

ABOUT THE EFFECTIVE LAWYER

The Effective Lawyer teaches ambitious trial lawyers how to grow their skills and create a prosperous law firm. Using lessons learned by accomplished attorneys from around the country, we discuss lessons learned through their trials and tribulations. Our discussions cover a vast range of topics sought out by attorneys looking for advice, from depositions to how to market your law firm. In each show we cover a new topic that an ambitious attorney would want to better understand, while providing practical skills to improve their legal practice.

The show is hosted by Jack Zinda, Founder and Senior Trial Lawyer at Zinda Law Group. In less than 15 years, Jack and his team have grown Zinda Law Group from 3 attorneys to over 30, spanning several states and handling a variety of personal injury cases from gas explosions to truck accidents.

 

 

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