As a minority in academia, I am keenly aware and often reminded by students and colleagues alike that representation matters. My experience as both a student and educator confirms what studies have shown – students of color have better academic performance when taught by teachers of color. To me, this is a profound statement about the value of leadership and the impact minority educators can have not just in academia but also on society at large. This concept of relatability can be a key driver for success in a myriad of ways.
Expert Witnesses Are Educators
As an educator, I am tasked with helping my students understand sometimes complicated concepts and challenge conventional thinking. The role of an expert witness mirrors that of an educator such that an expert witness is charged with teaching topics to individuals unfamiliar with the subject matter. Expert witnesses engage in teacher-student relationships in litigation. Their knowledge and perspective can be immensely important to help attorneys develop their litigation strategies and jurors connect the dots regarding particulars in a case.
For several reasons, members of the academy should consider expert witness work. First, the qualifications and responsibilities of an expert witness align with those of academia. Expert witnesses are required to “practice in a profession relevant to the issue of the case, be skilled in their particular profession, and have specialized knowledge through training, education, or practical experience.” By virtue of obtaining a terminal or advanced degree, teaching, and conducting research, individuals in academia are likely to meet these qualifications. Secondly, serving as an expert witness provides a unique opportunity to share specialized insight and knowledge. This experience can also provide validation of expertise as well as monetary compensation.
Opportunity for Underrepresented Groups to Take a Leadership Role
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2018, 68% of faculty in higher education are white, highlighting the need for diversity in the field. Likewise, expert witnesses in the legal industry see a similar racial disparity.
In litigation, the role of expert witnesses can be critical to a case. Expert witnesses can add or take away creditability from arguments and, along with counsel, represent the face of the client – hence the need for greater representation in the expert witness pool. Such ethnic and cultural diversity can also create an affinity between jurors and expert witnesses, establishing unconscious connections. This, along with effective and persuasive communication, can greatly increase jurors’ abilities to comprehend the facts of the case, which can mean the difference between winning and losing a matter.
In my experience consulting at WIT, I have had the opportunity to apply my expertise to a wide range of interesting cases. I respect the agency’s proactive stance to bridge the opportunity gap and promote diversity in the expert witness industry and encourage more qualified minorities in academia to explore creating a space for their leadership. Qualified individuals should have 10+ years in academia or industry, an active research portfolio, and a propensity for communicating technical concepts to non-scientific audiences.