Serving as an expert witness in legal cases can be a way to apply, flex, and grow your business expertise. It can also be a fruitful part-time gig.
This is a fertile area for experts on compensation, banking and finance, ergonomics, computer science, artificial intelligence, and other business-related disciplines, as well as for experts in the more degreed disciplines like psychology and medicine. (My expert-witness service has been as an expert witness on customer service, the customer experience, retail, professional services, and hospitality.)
Although expert witnesses on TV are invariably discussing blood spatter, bullet dispersion, and other grizzly details, the world in which you’ll travel if hired for your business expertise is a lot less telegenic, a lot less likely to become a plot point in a movie or television script. It’s the world of civil cases and how they are contested and resolved.
In a civil case, expert witnesses are hired by one or both parties: the plaintiff and/or the defendant. When either side engages you as an expert witness, they do so hoping you’ll back up assertions that they’re trying to prove or that you’ll disprove the claims made by the other side. To wit: on several cases in California, as a customer service expert witness I’ve been asked to give my opinion on issues of employee seating. These are cases where the need, or lack of need, for employees to stand up for the duration of their shifts (as opposed to sitting in a chair or utilizing a sit-stand stool) and how that does or doesn’t affect the customer experience is at issue.
This is certainly not the stuff of screenwriters’ dreams, but it’s significant nonetheless.
What to expect.
As an expert witness, here’s what you’ll be doing:
•You’ll find yourself reviewing the existing literature and possibly making original onsite observations yourself.
• You’ll write and submit an opinion stating your expert thoughts on the issue at hand.
• You’ll most likely testify at a deposition, where the opposing counsel will grill you at length on every aspect of the written opinion you’ve submitted.
• You may be called upon to testify in a trial. This, however, is less likely than you’d think from reading John Grisham. Most cases don’t go to trial; some don’t even get to the deposition stage.
Is expert witness work a good fit for you? A few questions to ask yourself:
• Do you have an area of specific expertise? An obvious point, but it’s the baseline.
• Is your schedule flexible? Once a deposition date is set you’re expected to be there, period.
• Are you a competent writer? You need to be up to the task of writing a multi-page opinion that contains your thoughts and their basis, as well as your review of the literature you feel is relevant.
• Do you have patience for procedure and process? The deposition, and particularly the trial (if it happens) involve a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.
Finally, one more consideration. Are you able to remain candid and unswayed under pressure? You’re being asked to state your views candidly when you testify, and doing anything other than that undermines the legal system. This isn’t a gig you should take, well-paying or not, if you lack an ethical spine.
Micah Solomon is a customer service and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker and trainer. He also works as a ghostwriter and content creator and as a customer service expert witness. Micah was recently named “the World’s #1 Customer Service Turnaround Expert” by Inc. Magazine. Email Micah directly, visit his website, or check out Micah’s new bestseller: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away) (HarperCollins Leadership).