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  • Roy Anderson

Better Call Beck

What is an Expert Witness and What Do They Do?

An expert witness is a person with special knowledge or proficiency in a particular field relevant to a legal matter. The expert’s role is to express an opinion within his or her area of expertise during legal proceedings. This includes written expert reports, depositions, and testimony at trial. While experts serve in criminal cases, here we focus on civil cases, which involve disputes between individuals or organizations and which typically involve claims seeking monetary compensation for damages. Experts can represent either the plaintiff (or claimant), which is the party bringing a case to court, or the defendant (or respondent), which is the party who must respond to the plaintiff’s claims.

Beck’s Long Expert Witness Track Record

Since the company was founded in 1981, staff at The Beck Group have served as expert witnesses in dozens of forestry and forest products related civil trials, trade disputes, and arbitration proceedings. We have represented both plaintiffs and defendants. All the cases have been civil (non-criminal) disputes. We have worked for private parties, businesses, and various federal government agencies. The combined sum of damage claims at stake in all the cases we’ve worked on is well over a billion dollars. Nearly half the cases focused on damages arising from supply disruptions at forest products manufacturing facilities, about a quarter involved tribal entities, and the rest are a mix of international trade issues and miscellaneous disputes about business practices.

Lessons Learned

A Good Expert More Than Pays for Their Cost—While hiring an expert witness can be costly, our experience is that it’s an investment with spectacular returns. For example, a recent defendant client faced a damage claim of more than $60 million. As a direct result of our work, the case was settled for less than a quarter of the original damage claim. Our fees were only a tiny fraction of the many millions of dollars saved.

Include the Broader Context and Circumstances—The damage claim in a lawsuit is generally focused on a specific event during a specific time, a certain piece of equipment, a contract, etc. However, in nearly all cases there are a host of circumstances that led to, and contributed to, the dispute. We’ve found that developing “the broader story” in an expert witness report can help escalate (or discount) damages and solidify the arguments. Additionally, providing a story and context helps judges and lawyers, who are not subject matter experts, more easily understand complex issues. We also take care to communicate the story and context simply, with minimal technical jargon, and extensive use of tables, graphs, and photos to make our client’s arguments in ways that judges and juries can easily understand. Our communication skills and forest products industry knowledge and experience allow us to bring this approach to our expert witness services. In short, our analysis, reports, and testimony can withstand cross examination.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute—Estimating damages or rebutting a damage claim is a time consuming process. It starts with the need for reviewing documents, which frequently number into the many thousands of pages. Then one has to develop a strategy given the available information. Next, we analyze and calculate damages, often over an extended time period and under several scenarios each with differing assumptions. We then write a report in which all information sources used must be carefully cited. It takes time to create a report that is defensible in court. Our recommendation is, if you think you need an expert, start looking for one sooner rather than later.

Please call us today if you are looking for world class forest related expert witness services.

The Beck Group is a forest products planning and consulting firm based in Portland, Oregon. We take a results-oriented, practical approach to helping clients make better decisions and improving their financial and operational performance. We offer a variety of services and we operate throughout North America and overseas. Our blog posts highlight work from recent consulting assignments and feature topics relevant to anyone interested in forest products. We welcome your feedback and comments.

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