Expert Testimony – Persuade the Jury by Acting Like a Great Teacher

By: Steven Babitsky
Excerpt from: How to Become a Dangerous Expert

The majority of expert testimony is inherently confusing and boring to jurors.  Dangerous experts make confusing and boring testimony, interesting and easy to understand.  Professor Steven Lubet states:

“While lay people usually look forward to cross-examination as the most challenging part of the trial, the truth is that direct examination is generally more important and frequently more complex and demanding.  From the lawyer’s perspective, a good cross-examination can focus on one or two small points, honing in on a few weaknesses or inconsistencies.  A good direct examination, however, must tell the entire story—and must tell it logically and dynamically.  This is no mean feat.  Typically an effective direct examination must sort through and organize a great mass of information, paring it down to the essential elements, and presenting it in an interesting and understandable manner.  For experts in particular, this can be difficult indeed.”

Dangerous experts realize that the key to holding the jurors’ interest is to act like a good teacher.  The qualities of a good teacher include the following characteristics:

Hard work.  The best teachers prepare diligently for their lessons. Dangerous experts prepare very hard for direct examination.

Understandable.  Effective teachers use understandable language, terms, and examples.  A good kindergarten teacher might use Barney or Elmo as examples and not world events.  A good expert teacher will relate to the jury’s experiences.

Showing, not telling.  Great teachers use demonstrations and visual aids.  Dangerous experts realize that visual aids show the jury important information and break up the monotony.

Getting to the point quickly in an organized, logical fashion and not playing “hide the ball.”

Organization.  Great teachers organize their lessons so that they are easy to follow and logically make sense.

Simplification.  The truly great teacher makes even the most complex subject simple and easy to understand.

Moving around while teaching.  The best teachers stand and move while teaching.  Listening to an hour lesson from a teacher sitting behind a big desk is a recipe for disaster.  Dangerous experts plan their direct testimony to enable them to get out of the witness box early and often.

Entertaining.  The very best teachers make even boring subjects entertaining.

Likeability.  The best teachers are likeable.  Students are engaged with what the teacher is saying.

Trustworthiness.  Students trust great teachers.

 Dangerous experts persuade the jury by using the above teaching techniques, which makes for more effective expert testimony.