Attorney Questions That Attempt to Discredit Expert Witnesses
Attorneys may attempt to discredit you in both personal and professional ways. A common tactic that opposing attorneys use is to create the impression that you knew the exact questions and that you were coached with the desired answers. The key word is ‘exact’. You have to counter that attempted impression; it’s not acceptable to know exact questions and answers that were prepared by an attorney for you. You may know the general topics for questioning but you must phrase your actual answers during testimony according to the actual questions that you hear. For example, here’s a possible sequence of questions you may hear, along with some efficient answers:
Q: Mr. Expert, did your counsel tell you the questions he was going to ask before you came here today?
A: We reviewed the subject areas that I would be testifying on.
Q: He told you the questions he would be asking, didn’t he?
A: I did not know the specific words in his questions. I knew the general topics of the questions.
Q: You told him what answers you would be giving, didn’t you?
A: Discussing testimony is pretty normal for a pre-trial conference. I just restated the opinions that I would be testifying to in court today.
Direct attacks on your honesty or integrity are not as likely as subtle ones. For example, asking how much money you make as an expert witness is a common technique used to create distance between you and the jurors. Attorneys will also sometimes ask whether you always work for the defendants or the plaintiffs in your legal work. Some of you will prefer to work for one side or the other in most of your cases. If this becomes a pattern, you should prepare for attorneys to try to establish that you have a bias toward plaintiffs or defendants in general and in this case in particular.
In the beginning of your expert witness life, much of your work may come from one law firm or even the same attorney. The opposing counsel may claim that you are biased in favor of this attorney. Your best defense here is to reiterate your neutrality in the matter and the thoroughness of your investigation, the reliability of your methodologies, and the objectivity of your opinions.
In order to more easily answer any questions along these lines, enter every testimonial setting knowing the details of your prior casework expertise. Know roughly how many cases you have worked, how many times you have testified, and what percentage of the time you have worked for the plaintiffs or the defendants.
Attorneys may try to make the jury perceive that your integrity is questionable. For example, a standard question used to suggest that the other side bought your opinion is:
Q: How much are you being paid per hour to deliver your opinions today?
This misleading question suggests that your ‘side’ has paid for you to testify in a particular way. You want to tell the jury that you were selected to provide objective opinions about the facts in the case. For example:
A: I’m not being paid to deliver or testify to my opinions. I’m being paid for my time, expertise and expertise. My opinions are completely my own, and my fees for service are independent of the result of the case. My company bills my time out at $300/hour (or whatever the rate is).
Attorneys can make frontal attacks on your credibility at any time. You should not appear startled by rude or abusive questioning tactics. Jurors will give you the benefit of the doubt if you just calmly and simply proper any misstatement by the opposing attorney.