Sometimes, the best expert witness for your case is one with years of experience testifying as an expert. In other cases, the best expert witness for your case has never written an expert witness report.
While attorneys don’t always like to be in the position of teacher, ensuring your expert has the necessary guidelines to write an effective report can be essential to your case. If you’re working with a new expert, here’s where to focus on formatting and other details in the creation of the expert’s report.
1) There’s no one ideal report, but the best reports have similar features.
The ideal format for an expert witness report will depend on the specific facts of your case and the content of the expert’s planned testimony. However, many expert reports – even from very different disciplines – share similar organizational features. For instance, many include statements of:
- · Qualifications
- · The assignment given to the expert (i.e. evaluating medical records / recreating accident conditions)
- · Documents reviewed and research undertaken
- · The expert’s opinions
- · Any necessary disclaimers
- · Signature and date
Most reports also include a section for attachments containing relevant documents, like the expert’s CV. These common sections of expert witness reports can be matched up to the requirements in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B), which are echoed in many state civil procedure rules. When working with an expert witness, it’s wise to provide a basic outline like this one. Advise the witness to keep comments short and to the point within each section.
2) Citation formats should reflect those used within the expert’s industry.
From the list of the expert’s relevant writings to the sources he or she consulted, citations should be formatted in the style typically used in the expert’s field. For many experts, the style will be APA, although AMA and NLM also commonly appear.
Your expert witness will likely be familiar with the most commonly-used citation formats. The manuals for these formats are widely available online, either from their respective publishers or from sources such as Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL).
3) Format opinions for maximum clarity.
To ensure that opinions are clearly labeled as such and are easy for readers to find and understand:
- · Give opinions their own section, titled “Opinions.
- · Create a one-sentence summary of each opinion and express it in bold font within the report.
- · For multiple opinions, use an outline format. The outline is particularly useful when opinions are related to one another (for instance, when Opinion #1 and Opinion #2 are in an if-then relationship, where #2 depends on reasoning or conclusions integral to #1).
4) Focus on honesty, clarity, and brevity, regardless of the required format.
Clear, concise, straightforward writing is difficult to achieve, yet it is the essence of a well-crafted expert witness report. Ask your expert to focus on honesty and simplicity, remembering that opposing experts and attorneys will certainly point out the limitations of a particular study, methodology, or approach.
Depending on the side you represent (plaintiff or defendant), your expert’s report may need to be formatted differently in order to emphasize different points. For example, a plaintiff’s expert’s report is likely to be wide-ranging, addressing every key issue and spending time elaborating on the shortcomings of particular approaches. A defendant’s expert’s report will thus be narrower in scope, focusing on rebuttal of each issue raised by the plaintiff’s expert.
In both cases, the expert witness should keep his or her arguments defined and presented in simple, clear language. Ask the expert to define technical terms as needed.
5) Discuss scope and length.
Does your expert know what you have in mind in terms of report scope and length? For instance, if you ask for an exhaustive report, are you thinking 15 pages while your expert is thinking 150?
Before your expert puts anything in writing, talk about the formatting requirements as well as the level of detail desired. A well-crafted 10-page expert witness report can be far more powerful than an exhaustively detailed but dense 50-page report.