The wildly popular book Freakonomics was the result of a partnership between economist Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner. This best-selling book took complex economic theories and applied them to cheating teachers, odd baby names and drug dealers in a way that the mainstream public both understood and enjoyed.
Just as these two individuals were able to combine technical knowledge with an ability to convey that knowledge, an expert must possess both technical knowledge and the communication skills that allow him to express himself clearly to a jury.
The trouble with this, as the authors of Freakonomics prove, is that these two abilities are not always found in the same person.
According to an interview between Robert Ambrogi and Roderick B. Williams, just because an expert seems to be the most knowledgeable person on a given topic, doesn’t mean that he is the best expert for your case. In the hunt for an expert witness, communication skills are just as vital as technical expertise.
During this interview, Williams remembered an economics professor who was able to concisely explain the complexities involved in a case.
“He just had a great, down-home demeanor, like someone’s dad. He was a common sense market economist who could take a dry topic and explain how it worked in the real world,” said Williams.
In this expert, Williams was able to find the same combination that made Freakonomics such a success. However, this perfect combination of skills is not always obtainable.
In some situations, it is better to hire multiple experts for the same case. Hiring a consulting expert who understands the technical details as well as a testifying expert who has better communication skills may be the best scenario for your case. Other times the case simply covers too many types of technology for just one expert.
As Williams said in his interview, “Sometimes an issue can involve multiple aspects that call for more than one expert. The lawyer could stretch one expert to cover all aspects, but the expert would not be comfortable in a stringent cross examination.”
Freakonomics was such a success because it took complex concepts that were previously perceived as too hard to understand or boring and made them straight-forward and interesting. Using the same principle with your experts should have a similar effect on your jury.
Editor’s Note: Roderick B. Williams is a Partner with K&L Gates who focuses on intellectual property litigation. With more than 20 years of experience as an attorney, he has litigated patents in the mechanical, medical device, pharmaceutical, electrical, semiconductor, software, business method, e-commerce and biotechnology fields. His interview with Robert Ambrogi was originally published in the BullsEye Newsletter in May of 2007.
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