Paralegal Guide: Expert Witnesses
DNA evidence, blood analysis, ballistics reports, and forgery examinations all raise criminal investigations to an unassailable level of complexity for the average judge and jury member. To compensate, scientists, doctors, nurses, accountants, psychologists, and other professionals may be called upon to provide testimony in court so that evidence can be interpreted by a qualified examiner and then boiled down into layman’s terms. These highly trained and educated consultants are called expert witnesses. While many have no legal experience, others are quite familiar with court proceedings and advertise their services to attorneys. In some fields, especially nursing, serving as an expert witness has become its own sub-field and requires separate legal training.
There are two kinds of expert witnesses: testifying and non-testifying. Besides participating directly in a trial and revealing his or her identity, a testifying expert is required to make all recorded evidence available to the court. Otherwise, an attorney may consult privately with an expert and simply use that expertise to inform the examination of witnesses. The consequence of a non-testifying expert is that his or her authority is not on direct display to the jury, and therefore does not influence their decision. Although expert witnesses are often not required to hold any special legal licensure, certification is nevertheless very common as lawyers who hire them are advised to find experts who are least equally qualified as their opponents’ experts.
Because nearly every company that offers expert witness services has a website, this resource avoids listing homepages for individual consultants and expert witnesses that are specific to a state or city. Instead, companies that have a nationwide or international focus appear alongside associations that host, or lead to, directories of witnesses. Attorneys and law students can use this page, part of a larger legal resource, to find websites that amass large databases of experts to help in finding the best possible witness for a particular case. Some of the most common types of expert witnesses are reflected in these sections, although witnesses in obscure fields can be found in “General Expert Witness Databases” below, all of which compile thousands of names and companies.
Examining potential forgeries and authenticating handwriting and signatures are two of the duties that count as a document examiner’s responsibilities. Also known as a “questioned document examiner” or “forensic document examiner,” this expert witness must earn a 4-year degree, preferably in one of the sciences, apprentice him or herself to an established examiner, and pass a series of visual tests provided by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). Document examiners typically analyze suspected forgeries by comparing the handwriting to other samples written by the suspect.
- The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, sponsored by the ASQDE below, specializes in providing information about certification for document examiners, maintaining a long list of experts in the U.S. and Canada, and providing some background information about the nature of document examination, how to become an examiner, and how to find one. The site also keeps track of meetings of associated organizations.
- The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners is an educational resource that supports research in the field of document examination by maintaining a journal, holding an annual conference, and connecting legal experts to document examiners both within and outside the U.S. Separate directories are available for each.
- The Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners serves as a career resource for qualified examiners and connects students in the field with graduate programs from Oklahoma State University. The organization keeps a small directory of expert witnesses from southeastern states and provides both contact information and direct links to the examiners’ websites.
- The Southwestern Association of Forensic Document Examiners primarily focuses on information and news pertinent to forgery, handwriting, and penmanship. This information is provided via a short FAQ and links to websites that specialize in forensic equipment, publications, and affiliated organizations.
Fraud prevention and investigation typify a forensic accountant’s duties, and for that reason they are often called upon to provide expert testimony. Their services are usually limited to litigation and other civil cases, and include counsel for a legal team before a trial, description of complex financial terminology for lay audiences (juries, judges, etc.), and extensive record checking. A specific kind of forensic accountant is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), who requires a special license.
- Accounting Page organizes accountants by state, country, and category, including forensics. Clicking on any of the internal links leads directly to a list of companies and individual consultants. Each entry is accompanied by a brief profile and a link to the firm’s website.
- Firms Offering Forensic Services, part of the Forensic Accounting Information website, is a simple list of over 300 companies that provide legal services, organized in alphabetical order. Firms from Australia, the U.K. and other countries are included.
- The Forensic Accountants Society of North America is an association of firms that focus on litigation, claims adjustment, investigations, and other services of interest to the legal profession. The companies that belong to FASNA are spread throughout the country.
- Kessler International’s forensic accounting page gives descriptions of the services provided by the company, including litigation support and expert witness testimony, and examples of past cases in which their investigations helped clients. Two of these cases are described on Kessler’s expert witness page, both of which involved the company intervention in lawsuits.
- The National Association of Forensic Accountants is primarily a training organization to provide certified public accountants the necessary qualifications to use their expertise in a legal capacity. Membership allows CPAs opportunities for publication and discounts at a variety of companies.
Legal Nurse Consultants
A legal nurse consultant, or LNC, advises legal experts on medical terminology and keeps attorneys up to speed on medical concepts relevant to a case. Most LNCs need to be at least a registered nurse (RN) to practice, and additional certification is required in many cases. However, a nurse need not emphasize legal training in his or her medical education. Nurses are usually selected on the basis of their medical specialty (oncology, back pain, etc.), which has the largest impact on their desirability to lawyers who are hiring.
- The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants provides a 20-question self-assessment survey for registered nurses to become legal nurse consultants, plus an online course and several publications about the topic. The site also features information about certification as an LNC and a general description of an LNC’s duties for legal experts interested in hiring their services.
- Legal Nurses OnLine, in addition to providing a directory of nurses that can be found on a map or standard list, also offers an information page about what kinds of cases are best suited to LNCs. These include official case types (toxic tort, criminal law, etc.) and duties (interpretation of medical records, medical briefings for non-medical personnel, etc.).
- International and American Association of the Legal Nurse Industry has two main sections: one for lawyers seeking LNCs, which requires filling out a contact form, and one for nurses seeking to become members, which provides a list of benefits. Otherwise, tabs that lead to a newsletter, information about the company structure, and a link list are provided.
- The National Alliance of Certified Legal Nurse Consultants, also known as the Vickie Milazzo Institute (named after an important pioneer in the field of nurse consulting), offers certification, conferences, and information about a LNC’s duties. The Types of Cases section organizes conditions, drugs, and medical fields into appropriate case types.
- The National Association of Legal Nurse Consultants, or NALNC, serves as both a directory of LNCs for visitors and a support center for nurses seeking to take courses and increase their marketability. Certification courses are available in packages from the website that range in price from $450 to $2,850.
- NCEH & Dr. Gloria Jo Floyd, also known as Nursing, Consultant, Educational, and Health Services, provides a broad resource, as the name suggests. Dr. Floyd, who is also an RN, organizes and coordinates educational events about consulting, connects users to continuing education opportunities, and provides her own services as a legal consultant.
- Register Nurse Experts, Inc., started in 1984, seeks to lessen the number of malpractice incidents nationwide by provideding access to experts by field and by condition, including AIDS, anesthesia, obstetrics, and so on. Specific instructions for becoming a member or gaining certification as an LNC are provided in a text document as well.
Medical Expert Witnesses
Unlike legal nurse consultants, medical expert witnesses may include all manner of health practitioners, including physicians. When doctors are called upon to provide legal consultation, they are encouraged by organizations, such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, to present medical facts without acting as part of a legal team advocating on a client’s behalf, and to only accept payment that is fitting to the level of work (so as the avoid accusations of bribery). To prevent bias, medical expert witnesses examine the evidence of a case after they have been hired.
- The American Academy of Family Physicians is a large directory of doctors who come together for advocacy, research, and continuing education. They are also available for expert testimony, and the AAFP provides some specific guidelines to ensure its members’ objectivity in the courtroom.
- The American College of Legal Medicine’s members often hold both Juris Doctor (JD) degrees and MDs, and exchange research on medicine and law through publications such as the Journal of Legal Medicine and Legal Medicine Perspectives.
- American Medical Forensic Specialists is a company that allows visitors to select one of its over 50 advisors based on medical specialty, including plastic surgery and toxicology. However, profiles and CVs for these experts is not available without first providing contact information.
- Medical Opinions Associates, Inc. must be contacted directly in order for visitors to be connected with a medical expert; however, a great deal of information about a medical expert’s role in the courtroom and background about dozens of medical fields are provided on the website. An “Expert Advice” section lists articles on selected topics, including “Tort Reform: Is It Really?” and “What Does the Court Look for Expert Medical Testimony?”
- North American Medical Jurisprudence, besides offering medical expert witness services in fields as diverse as cardiology and pediatric neurology, keeps sections on legal nurse consultants and IMEs. The company must be contacted directly in order for users to be connected to an expert witness, although customers can reject the recommended medical expert if desired.
Mental Health Expert Witnesses
Forensic psychologists serve as intermediaries between psychology and the legal system. Although they hail from any number of mental health backgrounds, they train specifically to present information about psychology within the confines of court proceedings. More than strictly serving as a consultant on mental health issues, a forensic psychologist must have a firm enough grasp of the legal system to assess a witness’s fitness to testify, determine whether or not a defendant is legally insane, and so on.
- The American Academy of Forensic Psychology offers a database of “diplomates” searchable by key word, plus continuing education and scholarship programs. Guidelines and websites about the intersection of psychology and law are covered in a separate section as well.
- Forensic Psychiatrist & Forensic Psychologist Expert Witness Directory Topics, from ExpertPages, filters its comprehensive directory of expert witnesses to include mental health-related topics: addiction, abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on. After choosing a field, the user is prompted to select a state from an interactive map.
- General and Forensic Psychiatry, by Pogos H. Voskanian, maintains a comprehensive list of links to general expert witness directories and, at the bottom of the page, specific mental health practitioners who provide testimony in court. Organizations associated with psychology and legal expertise are listed as well.
- PsyBar provides separate sections for employers and insurers, specializing in internal cases within companies and potentially fraudulent insurance claims that require psychological or neurological expertise. The available experts determine employee’s fitness for duty and give evaluations of work performance.
General Expert Witness Databases
The largest databases of expert witnesses, such as those gathered in this section, usually do not specialize in any particular field. Instead, visitors can filter their results from within each website. Disciplines as specific as real estate and construction are represented, allowing legal professionals to find the right expert witness for the right case. Furthermore, the directories below are nationwide in focus, so the scope of a user’s search can usually be refined to include a specific state.
- ALMExperts, while initially only providing a limited number of broad categories in which visitors can browse expert witnesses, hosts hundreds of sub-fields within each category. “Computers,” for example, breaks out into hacking, piracy, networks, and many others.
- Experts.com provides both a search engine and a directory of categories that include industries, case types, and professional specialties (astronomy, linguistics, etc.). The search engine allows clients to filter results by company, state, country, address, name, and keyword.
- ExpertLaw’s directory of expert witnesses is only one part of a general legal directory that includes private investigators, court reporters, and legal research. The expert witness section presents a few broad types, such as “Civil Ligation Experts” and “Construction and Architecture Experts,” and then leads clients through a few sub-categories (appraisals, contracts, etc.) before listing witnesses.
- HG Experts is a special section of the enormous HG legal directory that allows users to browse experts by case type (accidents, malpractice, etc.), field (psychiatry, baking, etc.), or type of expert (forensic experts, legal speakers, etc.). Rather than breaking out into smaller categories, each internal link leads directly to a list of expert witnesses, most of which are accompanied by photographs, contact information, and company profiles.
- JurisPro Expert Witness Directory is a straightforward directory that allows users to use a simple search engine (wherein they are prompted for an expert’s name or field) or click on about 20 general categories, such as “Agriculture and Animals” and “Police & Penal.” Under each category are listed the most prominent sub-categories in fine print, allowing visitors to refine their search even further.