Lessons learned as a neophyte
Essay by Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Academia has been my professional home for over 30 years. Research funding, scholarly publications, advising graduate students, professional service, and teaching have been the mainstay of my career.
Back in 2015, a law firm called in need of an expert witness on a case involving a health care simulator patent. Given that computer simulation and data analytics are areas of expertise, and I have worked on using such tools in health care, I was happy to provide my services. The case lasted for around one year, with it settled rather abruptly just before my deposition was to be held.
Fast forward to Fall 2017, when an expert witness search firm, Rubin Anders, reached out concerning a patent infringement case involving the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The owner of the patent was a small company attempting to stop a federal agency from using their patent without compensation. The law firm, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton, represented the plaintiff, while the Department of Justice represented the TSA.
The case (SecurityPoint Holding v The United States, 28 U.S.C. § 1498(a)) was ruled upon in October 2021 in favor of the plaintiff, resulting in a verdict of over $100 million, one of the largest damage awards ever made against the US government.
During this case, I was involved in preparing an expert report, a rebuttal expert report, giving a deposition, and then providing my testimony during the trial.
As a somewhat neophyte, there are numerous lessons learned that made the experience worthwhile, and ultimately successful.
Believe in the case. I could not represent a position that I did not believe in. As such, it was easy to be passionate about my arguments based on my expertise. If this had not been so, I would have not joined the case as an expert. I also got to know who I was representing, building bridges that facilitated communication and a more efficient uptake on the salient issues of the case.
Let the lawyers be lawyers. I could read legal documents, but I was not a lawyer. As such, when everyone “stayed in their lane,” the efforts were more effective and productive.
Let the experts be experts. I was engaged as an expert based on my domain knowledge and technical expertise. The legal team let me do my job without micromanaging me, resulting in positive synergy and fruitful exchanges that benefited everyone.
Details matter. Having a legal team that is knowledgeable and works with you is critical. Countless minutia fell below my radar that the legal team picked up on. After some time, I became better able to catch such subtleties, creating better synergy in our communications and the efforts.
Trust the process. The legal team understood how the case would proceed. Trusting them to see how my expertise fit into the case was critical. They also directed my attention to the Judge who presided over the case and ultimately issued the final verdict. Building rapport with the judge during my questioning at the trial and explaining my views in a language that he could appreciate was critical.
Expect the unexpected. No matter how well prepared I was, there were always some unexpected points and questions that arose. I learned to keep the focus on the facts, where it belonged, not where the opposing lawyers wanted it to go.