by Sterling Anthony, CPP, expert in packaging, marketing, logistics, human-factors, and warnings.
For an expert, ego is a job requirement; otherwise, there is no justification for holding oneself out as more knowledgeable, than is the jury, the attorneys, and the judge, about a subject before the court. Too much ego, however, undermines an expert’s effectiveness, particularly when testifying at deposition or at trial.
Too much ego does not mean that the expert is egotistical, or worse, egomaniacal. Such extremes are difficult to mask and likely would have manifested themselves before a matter progressed to testimony. Too much ego is any amount that hurts the case; after all, an expert is retained to be an asset, not a liability.
Rational experts don’t intentionally sabotage their testimonial effectiveness; therefore, they must guard against doing it unintentionally. One safeguard is to avoid being needlessly defensive.
When testifying at deposition, the expert’s qualifications, through vetting, already has been accepted by the retaining attorney. When testifying at trial, the expert’s qualifications, through proffer, already has been accepted by the court. The expert should bear those acceptances in mind and not fall into a defensive posture, distracted from letting the soundness of the testimony prove his/her qualifications.
The opposing attorney will appear unimpressed, and, overtly or covertly, impugn the expert’s qualifications vis-à-vis the matter-at-issue. That’s the nature of the adversarial system, and the expert should not be seen as taking umbrage, as if to say, “How dare you, when I’m the smartest person in the room.”
The expert should not engage in verbal combat but should leave it to the retaining attorney and the judge to reel in an overreaching opposing attorney. The expert should refrain from giving snide responses or saying anything personally directed at the opposing attorney. The expert who descends to that level has lost perspective.
It particularly can be damaging at trial, when everything is on the line and so much time and resources have been expended in getting to that point. The last thing needed is for the expert’s ego to alienate the jury.
Regarding what’s important, it’s about the expert only to an extent; what’s most important is the retaining attorney’s theory of the case. In that regard, the expert should subscribe to a Hippocratic oath, of sorts, in that, first, do no harm.
An expert’s susceptibility to allowing ego to interfere with testimonial effectiveness might not be discovered during the vetting process; therefore, the retaining attorney needs to stay alert to warning signs.
It’s a warning sign whenever the retaining attorney’s responsibly for case strategy is challenged by the expert, beyond the giving of advice. It’s a warning sign, for example, when the expert resists any and all proposed changes in his/her Report, down to the last comma. More worrisome is the expert who ignores instructions, for example, when the retaining attorney, concerned with what’s discoverable by the opposing side, specifies the channels (phone, email, regular mail) through which communications are to be made.
The saying goes, “Check your ego at the door.” That might not be totally possible or even desirable for the expert; nonetheless, ego should not be allowed to negatively affect the testifying expert’s temperament and comportment.
Sterling Anthony’s contact information: 100 Renaissance Center-Box 176, Detroit, MI 48243; 313-531-1875; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.thepackagingexpertwitness.com