About the Author
Roy Leggitt is a very highly credentialed plant and tree specialist based in San Francisco who has substantial forensic experience. An author, educator and public speaker, he has earned the admiration of both clients and peers.
Professional opinions presented in a credible and compelling way make effective expert witness testimony.
An expert’s degree of credibility is an amalgam of belief and believability, but these constituents are clearly not the same. An expert may hold a belief for good reasons, but may not be compelling. To be credible and compelling an expert must possess not just education and training, but should also have some calluses on their hands.
By calluses I mean real-world experience. An expert’s experience may be developed cumulatively, where an expert is a repository for averages; or it may be revolutionary, with insights gathered from a single episode. Experience can be far in the past or quite recent. Experience can be obtained through observation, instruction or participation.
Given that every legal case will have an opposing expert, which expert will sway the trier of fact? My observation during deposition and trial is that some experts more “qualified” than I have failed to be compelling. Many factors come into play, but arguably one of the most influential is an active practice – an expert with dirty hands.
Calluses are like body language, conveying greater meaning than the spoken word: calluses say, “I know this because I still work.” The hard work may include some grunt work, some tedium, and an element of participation that doesn't pay the bills, but simply must be. Calluses may not be apparent in a literal sense, but expert testimony is more believable and more compelling when it is delivered by a contractor who still builds or an arborist who still touches trees.
Credibility requires more than just knowledge, it also requires experience. Real world experience converts mere beliefs into compelling professional opinions.
The best expert witness is one who is actively practicing their profession.