What You Need to Know to be an Expert Witness!

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Feb 16, 2015

Congratulations! It all sounds so exciting — a real ego blast. You’ve been asked to be an “expert” in court. Not just an “authority,” or even a “dignitary” — you’re a regular celebrity! Name your price. Money, power, fame.

This report will answer the six questions you’re afraid to ask your new “client.”

1. What Is An Expert Witness?

As the name suggests, it’s someone with specialized knowledge of a certain field. In this case, placement.

Unlike eyewitnesses who testify under oath as to what they personally observed or heard, an expert is an adviser. His “client” is a party to the litigation, and he is paid to investigate, research, analyze and explain certain matters in dispute.

In a typical placement case, senior placers are used to establish things like:

  • The amount of time necessary to perform a particular type of search.
  • The “customary and usual” amount of a retainer, fee or guarantee.
  • The “common knowledge” of recruiting practices.
  • The availability of contact information on employers or candidates.
  • The frequency of retained searches, ceilings.
  • Commission policies on placements that occur after the consultant leaves.

These and many other issues make the expert an indispensable teacher to explain the placement process to lawyers, judges, and juries.

2. Why Don’t the Parties Just Explain About Placement Themselves?

There are several reasons:

  • They don’t appear objective. Since experts are technically advisors to the court, the delivery is more credible.
  • They are lay witnesses, and therefore can only testify as to what they actually observed. Experts can speculate as to how those facts relate to the case.
  • They might not have the breadth of knowledge necessary to prove their allegations. For example, a consultant suing an owner might be at a distinct disadvantage.
  • The presence of an expert enhances the value of the case. It appears that the retaining party is serious and can support his position.
  • Retaining an expert causes the case to settle more readily. The opposing party begins to doubt its position.

3. What Qualifications Do I Need?

If you’ve been asked to be an expert, you probably have them. There are two areas lawyers consider when looking:

Credentials Here are a few most experts possess:

  • Certification in placement (or your area of specialty).
  • Advanced degrees or licenses in related disciplines.
  •  Awards or other honors in placement or related fields.
  • Familiarity with certain trade practices.
  • Experience in placement or related fields.
  •  Publications in placement or related fields.
  •  Prior service as an expert witness.

Attributes –- Usually experts are:

  • Articulate. They need to explain, educate, and convince.
  • Presentable. Their image affects their delivery.
  •  Patient like a teacher.
  • Thorough, and able to withstand rigorous cross-examination.
  • Balanced, to appear objective.
  •  Unemotional. You’ll react logically when attacked.
  •  Likeable, to win the hearts and minds of the judge or jury.

4. Do I Need To Know About the Law?

Not really. There’s always an attorney by your side. But you should have a working legalese vocabulary. The most important legal jargon to know is in the accompanying table.

5. What Will I Be Asked To Do?

Long before your testimony at trial, the attorney who retains you will want:

  • Education about the placement process.
  • Suggestions on sources of documentary evidence.
  • Research into the facts of the case.
  • Assistance with preparation of interrogatories, deposition and trial questions.
  • Opinions on how to present the evidence.
  • Exhibits (forms, graphs, charts, policies, procedures, etc.) to use at the trial.

6. How Much Should I Charge?

Currently, the fees for folks like you range from $50 per hour to $2,500 per day. So you can see, it’s strictly a matter of negotiating. As I said in the beginning, name your price. Don’t let flattery or the “experience” you hope to gain reduce it.

We’ve learned the hard way to set a formidable fee and require a healthy prepayment prior to accepting these assignments. That’s because the cases seem to settle automatically once the expert witness lists are formally exchanged. It’s nice to know our reputation precedes us, but rearranging calendars is an expensive nuisance.

The amount and terms of expert witness fees are fair game to ask. Any hint of bias can destroy your credibility. For this reason, a contingency fee based on the recovery is illegal in some jurisdictions. It’s embarrassing in all of them.

So you’ve been asked to be an expert witness, ay? Congratulations, and welcome to my world!

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