By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
This week, the Persuasive Litigator blog reached an important milestone. After being named to the ABA Journal's "Blawg 100" list for the sixth straight year, we have now ascended to Blawg Valhalla by earning a permanent place in the ABA Journal's "Blawg Hall of Fame." Now, I was quick to add the ABA's badge to Persuasive Litigator's home page, and won't be shy in spreading the word. But at the same time, I know what you're thinking: "If I'm spending my nonbillable time reading this blog, then I don't care much about your honors, awards, endorsements, credentials and other horn-tooting...I care about whether you can tell me something useful, period." Well, here is something useful: Jurors are thinking pretty much the same thing when it comes to expert witness credentials. While examination of experts in trial often covers the credentials in great detail, jurors will generally be eager to get to the main event: The conclusions, how the expert got there, and how that can aid a jury in reaching its own decision. The most important thing the jurors are thinking about is how that expert can be useful.
Naturally, some of the focus on credentialing the expert is required by the law: Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence requires that an expert be qualified and accepted as an expert by the court prior to offering opinions. So at least some focus on credentials is a legal necessity. But what role do those qualifications play in making the expert influential and persuasive? The answer is, some but not as much as you might think. The research so far seems to indicate that jurors' use of experts is somewhat complicated. Jurors do base assessments to some extent on qualifications (Shuman, Champagne, & Whitaker, 1996), but the factors that matter most are knowledge, likability, trustworthiness and confidence (Brodsky, Griffin, & Cramer, 2010). But even those qualities don't guarantee success. In one study (Parrott, Neal, Wilson, & Brodsky, 2015), experts seen as highly knowledgeable were more likable, but not more influential in persuading jurors. For jurors, it isn't just a matter of finding the expert qualified and then accepting that expert's conclusions. In this post, I will look at the need to get beyond seeing credentials as just a stamp of approval and share some thoughts on the features of an expert witness that matter the most to jurors.