Portraits are your chance for an attorney to see how you’ll “play” on the stand. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s a do-you-look-trustworthy “audition.”
Your portrait should never be (a) missing, (b) a selfie, or (c) present off-putting demeanor–like an argumentative stance or angry expression.
Think about what you see in your patients that tell you they are off-limits. Arms aggressively shielding the chest, forced grins, an unintended grimace, failure to make eye contact. You know the signs and can apply this knowledge to yourself.
The Expert Witness’ Visual Message
A photo of you, as a Forensic Expert Witness, should convey you are:
- easy to connect with
- of professional demeanor
In addition, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, especially, are up against a jury’s preconceived notion of psychiatrists and psychologists:
- a good listener
- discreet (no one wants to tell their secrets to someone they don’t trust.)
Kind and Gentle, or Tough?
During cross-examination attorneys will try and get you to dive into one, at the expense of the other. How will you be the “kindly listener” while delivering “knowledgeable assertion”?
On the stand you have other tools at your disposal: shifting body language and expression which is fluid in real life. A photo, however, captures a moment in time. A good photographer can capture the subtleties of your skills.
Opposing counsel’s goal is to goad you to show hostility or defensiveness. Your photo should convey you are unlikely to falter.
Secrets to a good photograph:
- eye contact
- a smile, or a warm resting face
- clothing that is professional, but not slick or especially expensive
- posture and body language consistent with the qualities outlined above
- your face is in context–adding a background or props turns something flat-like a headshot- into a story. You can be sitting at a desk, in front of a building, at a law library, standing beside something doctorly or legal, on a witness stand.
- good lighting. Go to a professional for your photograph. Poor lighting can ruin even the most compelling expression.
Your facial expression isn’t the only feature of an inviting portrait.
- A good local photographer. Search online with the name of your community and “commercial photographer.” Look at the photographer’s online gallery of business and family portraits. (Most professional photographers have this website feature.) If you don’t like what you see, move on to someone else.
- Look beyond a headshot. Family portraits, for example, reveal the photographer’s skill and ability to capture warmth and people at ease in their environment. That subtlety belongs in your photo.
- More than one position. Be photographed in a variety of postures, and both full body, partial body, and just your face. This gives you more options later.
- Second set of eyes-Feedback. Run the photo results past clients and friends, get feedback before making your final choice. Talk with a person who is both skilled in your field, marketing in med-legal, marketing to attorneys (aka juries, judges,) graphic design and photography.
- Do it over if you don’t like the results. If you don’t like the photographs, get a different photographer and do it again. Portraits are so important in the field of Forensic Expert Witness work that the return on your investment is likely to outstrip the cost and inconvenience of a second photo sitting.
- UPDATE: HEAD TO THE MALL. In the past year since I last updated this, I’ve decided that all my clients should head to the mall and get a test set of photos. Of course most malls aren’t open due to the pandemic. Photography studios in many states are now allowed to see clients as social distancing is embedded in standing away from the camera. Find the cheapest in your area for a test run.
- To do my magic, we must have a photo that reveals you can dress in a kempt manner, have good hygeine and posture. I am learning not everyone owns a well-fitting suit, for example. You’ll need it to testify so why not buy it now, before your photos.
When an attorney types in your name, he or she may take a look at “images” to see what you look like.
Find out: type in your name. Click on Images. Here’s mine. What do you find? If you pop up-is it a picture you like? Is it even you? I’m in a pickle: one Beryl Vaughan starred in a film “Girls Under 21” and another is an advocate of teaching the Welsh Language and, of course, lives in Wales. But I’m in there. See what shows under your name.
Companion article: Check out the “What do you broadcast to attorneys and jurors?” under Practical Articles.
This is a compilation of portraits from the website of Antwerp law firm Van Goethem. I selected this example because it shows a range of expressions. The narrative is “attorneys at work, attorneys that are approachable.”
For a forensic physician, I like one. Which do you think it is? (Graphic header: compliments of 123rf.com, Satori Studios)