Our experts from Round 2: Battle of the Experts let us pick their brain about their experience as experts, their recommendations for trial, and their takeaway from our conference. Here’s what they said!
Q: How did you become an expert? Can you share your career path?
Timothy Morse: I joined Exponent after finishing my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and started doing engineering failure analysis work right away. Initially, I mostly supported more senior engineers who had testifying roles. After about five years or so, I started getting projects where I was the testifying expert.
Benjamin Cornelius: I have always loved buildings. From the time I was very young, I was fascinated with what makes buildings stand up–to people, the environment, and time–and also why some buildings fall short. After 20 years of designing various types of structures–including tall buildings, museums, sports facilities, residential buildings, and others–I got my first opportunity to work on a forensic investigation of Wembley Stadium. I was hooked. I loved working with the attorneys and taking what I know about how building structures are designed and constructed, and putting that together with what I know about how decisions are made on construction projects, and using it to get to the bottom of why problems occur.
Paul Marsenison: 20 plus years of working as a general contractor and engineer led me to want to utilize my skills in another arena to help clients.
Q: What do you think are the most important factors to jurors when hearing expert testimony?
TM: Credibility, credibility, and credibility. The jurors need to trust me. That means my opinions must be based on rigorous engineering analysis and I must be able to explain my opinions in a clear and compelling way.
BC: How well-prepared and how genuine the expert is on the stand. I think that being well-prepared is a sign of respect to the jury. If you’re well-prepared, you’ve developed a thoughtful and well-substantiated opinion and you are able to communicate it in a clear, well-organized, and compelling way. If you’re disorganized in your direct testimony or you’re thrown off by questions from opposing counsel that challenge your opinions, you’re not well-prepared and I think juries react badly to that. I think it’s also important to be genuine. By that, I mean that the jury should see the expert as someone who is there to try to help them clearly understand what the expert was asked to do, what he or she found, and how those findings are relevant to the decisions the jury needs to make. If the jury thinks the expert is just there to push a story that makes his or her client look good, they will become suspicious and begin to discount the expert’s opinions.
PM: Clearly and definitively laying out the facts in a simple, concise, and convincing manner.
Q: Did you feel that your demonstratives helped the jurors understand the case facts?
TM: I am always looking for ways to connect with the jury. If I can get up out of my chair and teach them something, I can be much more engaging. Clear demonstratives are a great way to do that.
BC: I do believe the demonstratives helped the jury. I always like to use visual aids in communicating my opinions to triers-of-fact. They allow me to orient the jury to the technical issues more rapidly and reliably and build the jury’s confidence in my evaluation and opinions.
Q: What did you learn by taking part in Magna’s “Battle of the Experts”?
PM: That success at trial is the result of solid teamwork and good communication and preparation between the attorney and the expert… working together is the key to success!
Q: What do you like most about what you do?
TM: The variety of projects I get to work on. I might be at a fire scene digging through debris, in a lab looking at a broken pipe under a microscope, and in a courtroom testifying on an intellectual property matter, all within the span of a week.
BC: Having spent a big part of my career designing building structures and working with some of the top structural engineers, architects and contractors in the field, I like using the insider knowledge I’ve gained to help legal teams better understand problems on their clients’ construction projects, make good decisions, and successfully navigate disputes. I also enjoy crafting clear, thoughtful, well-substantiated expert reports because they serve as a solid foundation for clear, compelling testimony. And finally, I like helping triers-of-fact understand what I have been asked to do, what I have found, and how my findings are relevant to the decisions that they must make in the case–especially when it involves my sketching ideas for them on a white board!
PM: The variety of work that I am exposed to and helping our clients to achieve the best possible outcome. I enjoy the “consultant” piece of the process.
Q: If I was a client, what would you say to convince me to hire you for my case?
TM: To prevail in litigation you need to stay a step ahead of the opposing side, to anticipate what the challenges are going to be, and be ready to respond to them. This requires quick, strategic thinking while under pressure. I do that better than any other expert you could hire.
BC: That my team and I have the knowledge, experience, and skill you need to understand the structural engineering issues in your case and prepare your best legal arguments, and that I recommend you speak with the many attorneys we’ve served in the past about the value that we bring to each matter we work on. The high level of expertise, attention to detail, commitment to integrity, and clear communication LERA applies to our design work carries over to all of our investigation projects, as well, and our deep bench of knowledge gives our clients access to the best service in the world.
PM: My skills, training and experience enable me to assist you with this matter as a true consultant and expert.
Q: Courtney, tell us about Robson Forensic, how did the company get started?
Courtney Tarsa: Robson Forensic began as two engineers in a basement working together to solve technical problems involving highway design and vehicle crashes. Since then we’ve grown to over 100 highly qualified experts, who are individually vetted and work exclusively within the firm.
Q: How long has Robson Forensic been in business and what is your company’s mission?
CT: Robson Forensic was founded in 1987. In our 30+ years and 60,000+ cases our mission has been to provide excellent and comprehensive technical services to our clients, but it goes beyond our casework to pursue technology and knowledge for the public good. Our experts continually apply lessons from our forensic casework to explore new research and develop new technologies that promote public safety.
Q: What sets Robson Forensic apart from other companies?
CT: Internally, we often describe Robson Forensic as a forensic firm. Many of our experts remain active in industry, but our primary focus is on forensic casework. This focus is reflected in the technical diversity of our workforce, the reach of our technical library, and the severity of our casework.
We approach every assignment as though it’s destined for litigation. At Robson Forensic, the expert who will be called to testify is the same expert who does the investigation and analysis. This approach ensures that our clients benefit from the wisdom of experience throughout their case and there is no risk of communication missteps as cases develop.
Q: Do you have a specific niche in the Industry?
CT: We are best known for our ability to take on highly technical or especially contentious disputes. Having experts in foundational disciplines of science and engineering has allowed us to expand our technical reach without sacrificing quality. Our ability to hire experts in highly specialized fields has allowed us to provide qualified experts in unusual areas of expertise, even as the standards for qualifying experts have become more stringent.
Q: Do you have a story you can share that demonstrates Robson’s excellence?
CT: Investigating thousands of mishaps per year occasionally brings our attention to gaps in technical research that prevent scientists or engineers from answering important and difficult questions. In line with our mission of providing for the public good, the experts at Robson Forensic have on many occasions endeavored to perform primary research to fill those gaps that science had previously left unanswered. Examples of research performed by the firm in the past include projects involving the visibility of watercraft, the crash performance of infant child seats, the storage and retrieval of medical devices, and the use or non-use of automotive safety devices.