Your Credentials Matter to the Jury

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Jurors want to hear about your credentials. At least that's what Andrew Jurs discovered when he administered an online survey to jurors, experts, and lawyers from every civil case that went to trial in 2012 in Polk County, Iowa. This data set consisted of 42 civil jury trials, 36 of which had at least one expert witness endorsement. Jurs asked the participants about the factors that influenced the credibility of the expert witnesses. All of these groups agreed that “the most important trait for an expert is the ability to convey technical information in a nontechnical way.” They also agreed “that an [expert’s] attractive physical appearance is the least important factor.”  

From there, though, the responses from each group differed. High percentages of jurors rated “leading expert in the field” as a characteristic that makes experts believable. Relative to the responses of jurors, the experts and the attorneysovervalued an expert having a pleasant personality and undervalued impressive educational credentials or the expert being a leader in their field. For instance, only 30% of the attorneys believed that being a “leading expert in the field” was important to jurors, while 81% of jurors rated this as an important factor in expert credibility.

For me, the takeaway is that, in my own testimony, it's worth spending some time developing and describing my credentials for the jury. I’ve tended to minimize the time I spend describing my credentials. I’ve downplayed them, instead putting the emphasis on giving the jury clear explanations and helpful information. No doubt, that’s a good impulse. It really does matter that I give the jury clear explanations and helpful information. But, it helps me to know that jurors value hearing about an expert’s credentials and that they take those credentials into account in assessing an expert’s credibility.

References

Jurs, Andrew W. (2016) “Expert Prevalence, Persuasion and Price: What Trial Participants Really Think about Experts,” Indiana Law Journal: Vol. 91: Iss. 2, Article 4.