Being Prepared on the Witness Stand: It's More Important Than What The Expert Is Wearing
As a juror, would you trust an expert psychologist more if he/she were wearing a suit? Psychologists love Birkenstocks--should they wear them on the witness stand? Long, flowing clothing--confidence inspiring?
Many studies have confirmed that people in the courtroom (jurors, judges, and attorneys) consider "professional attire" to be important in their determination of the credibility of an expert witness. "Professional attire" is not specifically defined, but I assume that means a suit and tie for men and a suit for women. It seems that the best rule of thumb would be to dress like an attorney.
In my literature search on this topic, I also found a dissertation completed in 2005 by Alison Browne, who surveyed attorneys on what they were looking for in good expert witnesses. She asked specifically about psychologists as expert witnesses.
Browne found that attorneys ranked the following qualities as most important (in order of importance):
1. Good demeanor and appearance on the stand
2. Personal attributes of the witness
3. Knowing the case well and being prepared
4. Appearing objective and honest
5. Being able to work well with the attorney
6. Good communication skills
Through her analysis of the data, Browne discovered the following qualities that were actually most important to jurors (in order of importance):
1. Knowing the case well and being prepared
2. Appearing objective and honest
3. Having good integrity and a good reputation
4. Good demeanor and appearance on the stand
5. Good communication skills
I find it fascinating that "good communication skills" are important, but not as important as a number of other qualities. It seems that the data strongly supports "being prepared" as one of the most important qualities a psychologist as expert witness can bring to the courtroom. Being objective, prepared, working well with the attorney, and having integrity all seem to be just as (if not more) important than having good communication skills. And, apparently, attorneys may place a little too much emphasis on the appearance of the witness--although appearance is important, the data seem to show that there are many other qualities that are more important than what the expert witness looks like or how he/she is dressed.
Browne, A. S. (2005). Psychologists as expert witnesses: Effective qualities from the attorney perspective. Retrieved from ProQuest, UMI Number: 3168789.