February 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 2

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Doing Forensic/Litigation Sociology

by Stephen J. Morewitz, Stephen J. Morewitz, PhD & Associates and San Jose State University

When I founded my expert witness and consulting firm, Stephen J. Morewitz, PhD, & Associates, in 1988, I thought that I would be handling every-day cases. I never expected to assist in high-profile legal cases, but I soon discovered that sociologists can provide reliable and valid testimony in these cases.

A sociologist typically participates in ordinary criminal and civil litigation. They are also involved in many high-profile legal cases as well. Since my firm’s inception I have been asked to provide a disability evaluation for a former Nazi war criminal facing deportation. Death-row inmates have contacted me to help get them off of death row by finding an appropriate expert witness to demonstrate their innocence. I testified in a wrongful death case involving a priest who killed himself after being forced to live with his priest abuser in the same residential facility; I assisted an owner of a child day care center accused of child sexual abuse by obtaining an expert witness on the reliability and validity of the anatomically correct doll in assessing child sexual abuse.

Lessons Learned

Below are some tips to help those interested to become a successful expert witness and litigation consultant:

Your good name is all that you have in this world.

Maintain an academic affiliation to boost your reputation as an expert witness and consultant. Try to develop a lecturer or adjunct faculty position at a nearby college. In addition, conduct research and publish your findings. Build your credibility by presenting your findings at national and international meetings. It is also important to become a member of scientific organizations and honor societies.

You should become an authority in the field in which you testify and consult.

Because of my background as a medical sociologist, health care researcher, and medical educator, I have testified as an expert witness in personal injury- and disability-related areas of the law, such as personal medical malpractice, product liability, toxic tort, worker’s compensation, and Social Security disability cases. In these cases, I typically testify about the impact of an injury or disease on social, family, occupational, and educational functioning. My books, including Chronic Diseases and Health Care (2006), Aging and Chronic Disorders (with Mark L. Goldstein) (2007), Domestic Violence and Maternal and Child Health (2003), and Death Threats and Violence (2008), are useful for supporting my expert witness testimony in these areas. My work in the sociology of sexual harassment and organizational analysis has enabled me to testify as an expert witness and consultant in sexual harassment and abuse.

Sociologists should testify about sociological issues and not try to testify in another field. Attorneys may try to trick you into testifying about an issue outside the scope of your expertise in order to try to disqualify you.

You should never underestimate your adversary. You should let your attorney prepare you for a deposition or trial.

If you cannot help your clients or potential clients, you may be able to refer them to one of your colleagues. You should follow up with clients in a timely manner; keep them on a mailing list. It is essential that you maintain personal contacts with your clients. Clients who are grateful for your services will always be your clients and they will refer other clients to you.

You should not over-advertise as an expert witness. You do not want to appear to be just a "hired gun." Your best approach to advertising your services is through word-of-mouth referrals from other attorneys and law firms.

You should not spend money on an expensive office. In fact, you may do better by having a home/office arrangement. You probably already spend most of the time on your cell phone or Internet. When necessary, you should meet the attorneys in their offices.

Attorneys and law firms in large metropolitan areas frequently need expert witness and litigation consulting services. I founded my consulting firm in Chicago, IL, and then expanded my offices to also include the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas (Tarzana) in 1992.small logo

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