What Does it Mean to Be an Expert Witness?

Contrary to what you see in Hollywood movies, there are very few “open and shut” cases in the U.S. legal system. Most matters that come before courts are one person’s word against another’s, and juries composed of everyday citizens are left to decide what seems to be the truth. You’ve probably heard the term “expert witness,” but you may not be aware of what it means. An expert witness is called in to evaluate and explain information that jurors may not be able to easily grasp.

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Professional Experience and Expertise

Let’s say a law suit involves bank fraud. The prosecution may hire a financial expert witness who is a respected professional with a banking or accounting background. That person would be compensated for their time and expected to provide a legal affidavit and sworn testimony.


The financial expert witness in the example above was hired by the prosecution. That doesn’t mean they will automatically interpret information in a way that is favorable to them. This is tricky, because many prosecutors and defense attorneys like to work with the same expert witnesses over and over for the sake of ease, so it’s understandable to think their witness may be biased towards them. But expert witnesses who don’t remain neutral quickly get a reputation that follows them, and repeat business tends to dry up.

Ability to Explain Complex Concepts Simply

Our financial expert witness needs to not only understand and interpret the facts presented to them, but they need to be able to easily articulate them in simple language to jurors without a financial background. This becomes more of a challenge the more specialized the witness’ field is, but it is an essential function of the role.

Expert witnesses are essential to the efficient working of the U.S. legal system. They must be knowledgeable, objective and articulate to serve in this capacity well.