Qalifying an Expert Witness

That went pretty well, didn't it.

You recall that the qualification to be an expert in court is quite simple: an expert is someone who, by reason of training or experience, has knowledge that would be useful to the court in making a decision. You do not need to have an specific certificate, or even be the most knowledgeable witness on a topic, to be qualified as an expert.

The next step of your testimony is the direct examination. The attorney who called you to court will ask you questions. The best strategy is to answer them.

That really didn’t go so well, Dr. SuperDoc. There are two main things that went wrong.

The first mistake was a decision to not carefully review the record the day before. The medical expert needs to know the medical record in excruciating detail. No one should know the medical record better than the medical expert. Things that may seem unimportant in a medical context, like the exact date that the visit took place, can become very important in a legal context. Even if you bring notes to refer to, having the basic facts of the case memorized contributes to the calm and competent image of a professional, detached expert witness. Additionally, some courts may require you to testify without notes.

The other problem is that you brought the entire chart with you. Anything you bring with you onto the witness stand can be taken away from you, and examined by either party. In this case, you brought the patient’s entire chart, when you were only testifying to a piece of the chart. The result is that the defense attorney got access to the patient’s entire medical history whereas she might otherwise only be entitled to a part of the chart.

Occasionally you will receive subpoena duces tecum, which requires you to produce documents in addition to testimony. In that case it is important to bring every document mentioned or described in the subpoena. This will usually include the entire patient chart.

Why don’t you see how it could have gone if you were a little bit better prepared.