Expert Witness Communication: One Size Does Not Fit All

April 4, 2006 — 1,939 views  
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An effective financial expert witness knows this is the most important factor. While testimony may be founded on substantial financial theory and painstaking research and calculation, the information must be presented in a way the audience comprehends.

For financial experts, then, it's critical to know if a case will be heard before the court or before a jury. Presentation skills, body language, the complexity of the testimony — and to some degree dress — vary significantly depending on the persona of the trier of fact.

Court Versus Jury

Of course, financial experts can generally expect the court to be better educated and more sophisticated — but not necessarily more attentive — than a jury. Experts can utilize terms and analogies before the bench that wouldn't be appropriate with a jury.

On the other hand, the court has probably “been there, done that” hundreds of times before so financial experts must be on point and interesting. The expert must follow the four S’s: “Say it, support it, summarize it and shut up.”

A jury needs more guidance. The members generally are all ears because they recognize their responsibility to the matter at hand. What the expert is saying is probably new to them. And experts must be aware that the average education in the jury box is probably somewhere between the sixth and ninth grades. It's a challenging job to present complex, technical information to a jury without “talking down” to the members.

A good financial expert witness knows how to create strong, demonstrative aids utilizing color. He or she should be able to build graphics from a foundation to a logical conclusion, avoid too many points on a single exhibit, and present his entire opinion with as few charts as possible.

Economists and academicians are generally not as effective as you might think because of their failure to recognize these communication challenges (although they often do better before the court than a jury). Their skills have been honed to impart complex issues and theories to an audience whose job is not only to understand the conclusion, but also to understand the complexities themselves. These professionals frequently have little, experience “making it simple.”

The most formidable expert witnesses are those whose professional careers have been built on communicating complex financial, accounting and tax information to the lay public. They need to combine that with experience in public speaking and specialized knowledge in areas such as business valuations, financial and profitability analysis, and fraud investigation.

Rea & Associates, Inc.