When we train and prepare expert witnesses we explain to them that being a superior expert witness depends more on listening than speaking.  The most effective experts are all excellent listeners.  The following is a simple protocol that you can follow to improve your expert witness’s active listening skills.

First, tell your expert to concentrate on every word in the question with all their energy.  They should try to visualize every word of the question by picturing the question as if it were written on a white board in front of them.

Second, tell you expert that if they need to, try to repeat the question back silently in their head before responding.  They should not rush their response.  Test your expert witness by asking him some questions and asking him to repeat the question back to you verbatim.


Third, warn your expert for particular things to listen for such as:

  1. Ambiguities.
  2. Questions that they do not understand.
  3. Mischaracterizations.
  4. Compound questions.
  5. Non-questions.
  6. Questions that assume facts which are not in evidence.
  7. Questions containing pejorative words, phrases or implications.


Practice active listening by asking your expert witness the following practice questions:

  1. Do you know what time it is now?  Answer should be “yes” or “no” not a time.
  2. In what percentage of your past cases in the last 4 years have you represented plaintiffs? None.  I don’t represent anyone, I am retained by one side or the other.
  3. Was he better before this?  Who are you referring to by “he” and what do you mean by “better?”
  4. How much are you being paid for your testimony here today? I am not being paid for my testimony, I am being paid for my time.
  5. Your resume is very impressive. Response should be silence.  This is a statement, not a question.


By following the above protocol you should be able to quickly and significantly improve your expert witness’s active listening skills and hence their performance while testifying.


James J. Mangraviti, Jr., Esq. and Steven Babitsky, Esq., are frequently called by expert witnesses, their employers, and retaining counsel to train and prepare individual expert witnesses for upcoming testimony. They are former litigators who currently serve as Principals of the expert witness training company SEAK, Inc. (www.testifyingtraining.com).