Expert “Prestige”: How Much Does It Matter What University Your Witness Attended?


Expert "Prestige": How Much Does It Matter What University Your Witness Attended?

The issue of whether an expert’s prestige is worth the high cost of services has been questioned by many trial attorneys. Although it may be tempting to hire the most expensive and prestigious expert witness to testify, your expert’s pedigree may not necessarily guarantee a victory. An out-of-town expert with prestigious credentials from an Ivy League university may not engender the same level of trust in the jury as an expert from a locally known and respected institution. The truth regarding this issue may lie not just in the long list of credentials an expert possesses but how they demonstrate them in the courtroom to a jury.

Does the Prestige of the Expert Witness Carry More Favor With Jurors?

When assessing the prestige of an individual, people often turn to a person’s educational background. Being a graduate of a famous academic institution often brings with it a perception of greater intelligence or superior capacity. These biases tend to carry over to the courtroom. If we perceive a person as superior, then we are more likely to give preference to their testimony.

When searching for expert witnesses to support their cases, most attorneys seek out those with top educational credentials. Ivy League educated professionals with terminal degrees in their field charge a high premium. Such fees are appropriate in many cases. As experts, they can evaluate and testify in the courtroom based on their prestigious educational background. The question that arises is whether the expert with a PhD or MD from a top school makes the difference in a juror’s perception.

Noted expert trial consultant Jeremy Rose explains that jurors want experts to explain concepts to them so they can make their own decisions. From the standpoint of evaluating an expert witness’ credentials, the length of a resume combined with elite schooling may not matter to a jury. In fact, they are other major factors that helps a jury view an expert witness as persuasive. These include their ability to teach, explain concepts, and their previous hands on experience.

Teaching Ability

The requirements of an expert’s degree program may perhaps be more relevant than the name of the school itself. Jurors prefer experts that are good teachers who can explain complex concepts to them in layman’s terms. Generally, top universities place different focuses on their graduate students in terms of requiring or limiting teaching and classroom instruction. Therefore in many cases, an expert that graduated from a top state university which required the expert to teach in the classroom may be better suited to represent your client in court than an ivy-league educated researcher.

Explanations

An expert’s presentation style can also be influenced by their graduate education. This falls into the same realm as serving in a teaching role. Jurors prefer an expert that does not appear to be focusing on one side of a controversy.

Therefore, trial attorneys should examine carefully an expert with a large number of academic credentials. They need to understand how they will react during a cross examination. Part of that reaction is learning if the expert can handle rejection with poise and professionalism.  An expert’s resume with education and training from the best universities will be worthless if the expert defends their testimony at all costs. Instead, jurors prefer an expert to simply explain the facts for a situation as they were asked to examine. An expert has to appear neutral and not invested in the case. If their doctoral education leads them to appear arrogant or defensive in their testimony under cross-examination, they may be ignored by the jury.

Hands-On Experience

In general, the more hands-on experience an expert has in their field or industry the better. It raises the possibility that more jurors will find the expert persuasive. For example, a treating medical doctor can be more persuasive to a juror than an expert researcher. Experts who are actively working in their chosen field have arguably more clout than experts with published research and books written on a subject.

What’s More Powerful Than Prestige?

While confidence is a necessary component for effective expert testimony, an expert’s “prestige” comes down to one simple factor: Likability.

A great resume with prestigious education and work history is important. However, an expert that a jury likes could be the key to winning a case. Therefore, it is important to create a vetting process for selecting an expert. Trial attorneys need to ask questions that reach beyond an expert’s education and work experience. It is important to see if any previous jury feedback is available. Ultimately, it is important to learn if an expert knows the perceptions jurors may have regarding their educational background.

About The Author

Edward Maggio, J.D., M.S., has a legal background in corporate law and compliance matters. Edward graduated with Honors from New York Law School and completed his Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Oxford University.