134 – Sonia Rodriguez – Cracking the Expert Witness Code: Getting the Best from Your Retained Experts
“The relationship between the expert and the lawyer is a lot like a horse and a rider. I don’t want you to lead me in a dangerous situation, and I don’t want to lead you in a dangerous situation.”
On this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, host Michael Cowen is joined by his partner Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion on the dos and don’ts of working with retained expert witnesses. Sonia and Michael discuss the importance of consistent communication with your expert and remembering that while they may be the expert in their field, you’re the expert in the courtroom. Experts are equipped with technical knowledge, but when it comes to getting a jury to believe your story, it’s best to keep things simple. Just like a rider guides a horse, lawyers must guide their experts–the expert must know why they’ve been hired and how the lawyer sees them fitting in the case.
Name: Sonia Rodriguez
About: Sonia Rodriguez, a native of San Antonio, Texas, is a partner at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock. Sonia has represented only plaintiffs for nearly 20 years, and she practices in the areas of personal injury trial and appellate law. Beyond the practice of law, Sonia has provided unwavering support to a number of important civic and community causes, including the Young Women’s Leadership Academy and the SAISD Foundation.
Company: Cowen Rodriguez Peacock
[2:07] The frustration of experts who don’t cite their sources: Retained experts may refuse to back up their opinions with authorities and publications, however, it’s vital that juries hear those citations. The best kinds of experts are natural teachers who want to back up their opinions with data.
[5:42] Dealing with unwieldy experts: When faced with an expert who doesn’t want to anchor their opinions, Sonia reminds the expert that she is trying to protect them because Daubert motions are a real risk.
[7:37] Ensuring nothing is missed: In order to keep everyone on schedule, Sonia communicates with her experts early and often, and always provides a “fake” deadline that builds in plenty of room for flexibility. Sonia also tells experts what they will be using to tell their story to the jury, so they can craft their trial testimony accordingly.
[14:00] When one expert relies on another: Sometimes experts rely on the opinions of another testifying expert to craft their report, so Sonia recommends connecting experts and coordinating schedules as early as possible.
[19:42] How to ensure testimony is cohesive and persuasive: Sonia suggests figuring out where the expert’s opinion fits into your larger story at trial to utilize their testimony most effectively. Keeping the opinions in plain English is always a must.
[24:45] “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Experts: Sometimes experts can be charming and forthcoming on direct examination, but completely turn into another person on cross-examination, becoming defensive and argumentative. That’s when you know it’s time to stop using those experts!
[26:53] Pitfalls of listserv recommendations: While Sonia praises fellow members of the plaintiff’s bar for providing expert recommendations on the listserv, Michael cautions that you must always take these recommendations with a grain of salt and consider the source.
[30:20] Sonia’s final advice on experts: Don’t rely on staff to handle communications with experts; managing experts yourself minimizes the risk of miscommunications. Next, don’t forget to provide experts with key discovery materials as they are uncovered. Finally, build a personal relationship with experts.
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In this popular and award-winning podcast for trial lawyers, noteworthy author, sought-after speaker, and renowned trial lawyer, Michael Cowen explores critical topics distinctive to the legal profession with some of the biggest names in the industry – specifically focused on developing extremely efficient law practices, securing a competitive edge in the industry, and wildly excelling in the courtroom.