Are Good Expert Witnesses Born Or Trained? Part 5

In Five Imperatives for Expert Witnesses, SynchronicsGroup Trial Consultants, one of the oldest jury and trial consulting firms in the country, writes on “Are good experts born, or can they be trained? In this excerpt, they write on addressing the jurors ‘heart to heart.”

A third visual sign of a cooperative attitude is body orientation. A frontal orientation, where people face each other squarely, communicates interest in the interaction and a willingness to interact ‘heart to heart.’ A sideways orientation, when people literally “turn a cold shoulder” to others, indicates indifference or disinterest. And finally, when people leave the interaction, they literally “turn their back” on it, communicating their lack of interest in the other person.

Experts need to communicate clearly that they are involved in the courtroom interactions, so they will want to go out of their way to give a frontal orientation to those who address them. For instance, when addressed by the judge, it is preferable to actually turn in the chair in order to give a frontal orientation to answer the judge, instead of simply turning one’s head. When attorney clients address their experts, the experts will want to give the same frontal orientation. And even with opposing counsel, a frontal orientation is desirable because it communicates a sense of fairness and cooperation in seeking justice.

When addressing jurors, it is especially important for experts to turn in their chairs and meet the jurors ‘heart to heart.’ But this raises an interesting question: when should experts address the jury and when should they address the attorney who is asking the questions? Jurors are the more important audience, without doubt. On the other hand, experts can be perceived as rude if they ignore the person who is talking to them – i.e., friendly counsel.

This problem can be addressed by the attorney instructing his expert to “tell the jurors” the answer. Once the attorney gives the expert permission to answer to the jurors – then the expert has a justification for turning away from the attorney. This verbal prompt also establishes a pattern of behavior, so even when counsel does not give the expert the prompt, she can still turn to the jurors with her answers.