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Law 101: Legal Guide for the Forensic Expert

Final Status Conference

A final status conference between the experts and the engaging attorney before trial provides the following benefits:

  • The expert meets the other experts in the case.

  • All of the experts review their findings together to ensure that their conclusions do not conflict.

  • Any inconsistencies in findings, conclusions or methodology are exposed.

  • Each expert can explain or practice the use of courtroom charts, drawings, models and demonstrations.

Counsel usually sets the time and place for the final status conference. If the attorney does not suggest a conference, the expert may do so. Such conferences should take place in person rather than by telephone. Every effort should be made to have all experts and attorneys present.

The conference allows each expert to encapsulate the presentation. Given a summary of each expert's assignment, processes and conclusions, the forensic analyst can integrate the information into the results and conclusions.

The expert should approach this session with an open mind and a thick skin. If any errors or mistakes have been made, it is far better for them to be exposed at the final status conference than in the courtroom. If errors in the expert's process or methodology are found, the expert should admit them and correct the work.

All prior considerations and observations about confidentiality apply to the final status meeting. Although the discovery phase is probably over by the time of the conference, the opposition may attempt to probe for disclosures at the meeting.

To enhance confidentiality, all materials and information about the meeting should be labeled as attorney work products, if appropriate. Whenever possible, all information at the conference should be couched in terms of the attorney's thought processes in preparation for trial. Any memoranda generated for the use of experts should be labeled as such.

The final status conference is an exercise for the benefit of the experts and for gauging the attorney's thought processes and trial preparation effort. Several precautionary steps should be followed, on the assumption that matters discussed at the final status conference might be discoverable during trial or through subsequent discovery. The expert should:

  • Test statements for courtroom disclosure.

  • Ask whether statements would sound appropriate if they were disclosed while on the witness stand.

  • Determine whether the assistance received from other experts at the status conference is that customarily used by experts in their investigative processes.

In other words, if the expert receives help from other experts at the final status conference, the expert should accept or request such assistance in customary terms of professional, technical or scientific consultation. In that way, under the Federal Rules of Evidence, it is possible that the inquiry would be treated as proper and would not have to be disclosed. If disclosed, the data would be considered a professionally proper consultation.

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