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# Thursday, December 11, 2014

Court work is one of the responsibilities - and hazards - of our profession. Valuation reports are often prepared to help settle disputes and assist with negotiations, but inevitably some cases will proceed to a court or arbitration hearing.  In my field of work, expropriations are the most common files to end up in the court room, where I will be obliged to attend and present evidence as an expert witness.  I can expect to be examined and questioned by lawyers for both sides, intent on casting me either as hero or villain depending on their client’s respective interests.  This is the ultimate test of professional accountability, and there is no doubt the role of expert witness can be an uncomfortable one even for the initiated.  The true objective is to survive with credibility still intact, but after 30 (plus) years in the business I have found there can be rewards.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

There will be no rewards if you are not properly prepared before entering the court room. It is not unusual for a case to be heard months, even years, after the work was done, by which time much of the detail will have been forgotten.  It is vital to take the time to review each page and every document in advance.  Fumbling through files in the witness box is unsettling - particularly if the client is watching.  It is akin to revising for exams; you know the information is in there, if only you could find it.  If the mantra of the real estate profession is location, location, location, then the slogan of the expert witness is prepare, prepare, prepare.  You’ll be glad you did.  This can be your finest hour… or your worst nightmare.

Taking charge of the witness box

Thorough preparation builds confidence and makes the presentation of your own evidence go much more smoothly, but most importantly it prepares you for the onslaught of cross examination. You rarely get an easy ride on cross examination.  The questions are intended to expose every flaw, magnify every error and batter the witness into submission.  But you are entitled to defend yourself; the witness box is your stage and you are entitled to perform when called upon.  

My colleague recalls an occasion before a particularly hostile and theatrical lawyer.  The cross examination began with a blistering attack, unleashed with menace and purpose, intended to reduce the witness to a quivering wreck right from the start.  He demanded an answer and was clearly prepared to wait all day till he got it.  The court room fell silent.  Not easily intimidated, the witness paused then calmly asked the court for a glass of water, drank it, and asked “Now, would you mind repeating the question, please”.  By which time the lawyer had forgotten the question and fumbled through papers trying to reconstruct the moment.  But it was lost. You could almost hear the applause.

The weight of the evidence

Don’t underestimate the power of paper.  “The one with the thickest file always wins” – or so they say, and I believe there is some truth to that when it comes to expert witnesses.  These days of course it’s the one with the most megabytes, but you can’t beat a thick file to demonstrate that the work was done thoroughly and diligently, full of supporting notes, data and analysis to defeat every question that might be asked.  Much of it might never be referred to but some of it will be entered into evidence and scrutinised.  I recently reached new heights at the weigh-in, hauling several boxes of material into the court room which were wheeled into place and unloaded in front of an expectant audience.  So effective was the reaction that I intend to repeat the performance on every occasion, filling boxes with dusty files from the basement if necessary.  “Question me at your peril; I have all the answers” is the message.

Testifying tips brought to you by our experienced expert witness and Vice President of our Counselling Division, Lee Weatherby. To learn more about Lee, visit our Team Leaders page or check out our Facebook page to get a little more intimate!

Thursday, December 11, 2014 12:54:47 PM (Atlantic Standard Time, UTC-04:00)  #    -
Counselling