“Learn the step-by-step trial preparation that will make your testimony creditable as an engineering expert witness.”
By John D. Gaskell, Retired Consulting Engineer
Author of “The Complete Guide to FORENSIC ENGINEERING”
Forensic engineering is defined by the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (NAFE) as “the application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly relate to, the jurisprudence system, inclusive of alternative dispute resolution.” These engineers serve as consultants to the legal profession and as expert witnesses in courts of law.
The good news is that the vast majority of cases settle; the bad news is that you need to prepare every case as if it will go to trial.
Review what to bring to court with your attorney/client. Usually, bring the following:
- Your CV. Be prepared to present it orally from memory. Summarize your cases by saying something like, “I have been involved with 18 cases as an expert witness. I was deposed in 10 of them, and I testified at trial 4 times.”
- Your fee schedule, time sheets, bills, and case summary. Make sure that these records are up to date and be prepared to answer the question, “How much time did you spend on this case and what were your total charges to date?”
- Your report. Again, be prepared to present it orally from memory.
Don’t bring your case file unless directed to do so. If you do bring it, carefully remove any irrelevant, early, or incorrect information.
Trial preparation is similar to that needed for a deposition. The important difference is how clearly and convincingly you present your opinions. Juries tend to believe expert witnesses who appear confident, knowledgeable, and likable.
Another difference is the thoroughness of your trial preparation. Write out questions and detailed answers. These should each be concise. Juries lose their train of thought with run-on questions or answers; break them up into smaller pieces. Group them by topic and in appropriate order. For example: site investigation, interviews, examinations/observations, tests, and opinions. Also, include broad inquiries: “Tell us about all of your opinions and the justification for each. When did you first form that opinion?” (Hopefully it was not before you knew the results of your investigation.) Send them to your attorney/client for review. Also, ask him or her to send you a written list of other possible questions. (But, don’t expect much of a reply).
Practice aloud in front of a mirror until you can recite the answers from memory with conviction and without “umms” and “I thinks.” This will adequately prepare you for your direct examination by your attorney/client.
Next, try to predict questions the opposing attorney might ask during his or her cross-examination. The opposing expert’s report will be an inspiration for possible questions. Try to craft an appropriate response to each, answers that don’t sound defensive. Try to find out the name of the attorney who is expected to cross-examine you so you can address him or her by last name in court. If you forget the name, address the attorney as “counselor.”
In some cases, exhibits are effective. If you think of a prop that illustrates your opinions and makes them easier to understand, review that with your attorney/client well ahead of time.
Litigation consulting is interesting, challenging, and profitable. If trial preparation interests you, I recommend adding “Forensic Engineering” to your practice as a consulting engineer.
Get Jack’s new book: The “Complete Guide” to FORENSIC ENGINEERING to learn the details. Also, the largest chapter in his book: The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING covers the “highlights” of Forensic Engineering. Visit TheEngineersResource.com to find out more.
Learn how to be a forensic engineer. Learn how to be a forensic expert witness. How to be an engineering expert witness. How to obtain training as a forensic engineer. How to obtain training as an engineering expert witness.