Expert Witness Testimony Tips (Lessons From The Depp-Heard Trial)

By Mun Siong Yoong on April 09, 2023, 4:00 PM

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s trial stole the world’s attention for weeks in 2022.


It was impossible to avoid commentary about who to support…


No matter which social media or streaming platform you turned to.


When the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Depp and awarded him USD15 million in damages, the Internet roared with approval.


Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck



The Depp-Heard trial garnered significant media attention and global interest because:


  1. Hollywood, Me Too Movement Implications: Depp is as a high-profile actor. Heard is an activist for women’s rights. The trial was seen as having wider cultural significance beyond the individuals involved.
  2. Domestic Abuse Allegations. Domestic abuse is a serious issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Any high-profile case of this nature is likely to attract media attention.
  3. High-profile Individuals Involved. Losing the case could mean their career in Hollywood was over.
  4. Testimony and Evidence Presentations: The trial involved extensive testimony and evidence. This included witness statements, text messages, and audio recordings. This evidence provided a salacious look into Depp and Heard’s personal lives. This only increased public interest.


Why Expert Testimony Is Crucial



An exhaustive list of experts came from a variety of backgrounds, including:


Team Johnny

  1. Dr. David A. Kulber, surgeon;
  2. Richard Marks, entertainment lawyer and Hollywood expert;
  3. Mike Spindler, economic damages expert;
  4. Doug Bania, social media and internet analytics expert;
  5. David Spiegel, psychiatrist specializing in addiction and intimate partner violence; and
  6. Dr. Richard Shaw, forensic psychiatrist.


Team Amber

  1. Tracey Jacobs, Depp’s former talent agent;
  2. Ron Schnell, social media forensic expert;
  3. Richard Moore, orthopedic surgeon; and
  4. Kathryn Arnold, entertainment industry consultant.


This showed that litigants understood that their fate hinged on expert testimony.


So what happens if you choose the wrong expert?


So You Want To Be An Expert Witness


An expert panel on working with experts


I answered this question recently.


Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (“IPOS”) requested I teach ‘Acting as an Expert Witness in an IP Dispute


So You Want To Be An Expert Witness masterclass held in IPOS’ Tribunal. This is one of three Singpaore courts where intellectual property (“IP”) disputes are heard and decided.


Participants included:

  1. Deloitte’s Regional Managing Director, Financial Advisory
  2. Deloitte’s Partner, Valuation & Modelling
  3. Kroll, Managing Director, Valuation Services
  4. PwC, Partner, Co-head of M&A and Head of Valuations
  5. PwC, Partner, Deals Accounting Advisory, Valuations, and Sales & Purchase Agreements


Emotional Costs When You Choose The Wrong Expert


Masterclass for Experts At The Top of Their Professional Game


  1. Stress and Anxiety: Legal proceedings can be stressful and emotionally taxing. The wrong expert witness can add to that stress. If an expert witness is unprepared, unresponsive, or uncooperative, it can increase anxiety of both the legal team and the client. Additionally, if the witness’s testimony is challenged, it can lead to heightened stress and tension.
  2. Disappointment: An expert can lose a case if he/she fails to deliver the testimony or evidence needed to support your case. This could lead to frustration, anger, and a sense of betrayal or disillusionment.
  3. Doubt and Uncertainty: An expert witness who provides inaccurate information can weaken your case. This can cause feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and anxiety about the outcome of the trial.


Expert Witness Experiences


IPOS’ ‘Acting as an Expert Witness in an IP Dispute’ Panelists

Panelists (L:R)

  • Inhouse Counsel: Esther Yang. Director, Legal Services, Creative Technology Ltd.
  • Practising Lawyer: Jason Chan. Director, Amica Law LLC.
  • Arbitrator: Professor Leslie Chew, SC. President, Asia Pacific Institute of Experts.
  • Judge: Justice Valerie Thean, High Court Judge of the Singapore Supreme Court.
  • Expert: Mun Siong Yoong. Founder and CEO | Practice Leader, Deal Advisory, Vallaris Deal Advisory Pte Ltd.
  • Moderator: Tony Yeo. Managing Director of Intellectual Property, Drew & Napier LLC.


Both Depp and Heard’s attorneys used a mix of traditional and non-traditional tactics.


Here are the top three (3) to keep in mind:


  1. Composure

In court, your appearance, facial expressions, gestures and interaction with lawyers and judges are on full display.


Amber Heard reacts as she testifies during a defamation case against her by ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp in Fairfax, Virginia, U.S., May 5, 2022. PHOTO BY JIM LO SCALZO/POOL VIA REUTERS


Depp vs Heard was an intense and emotional trial.


However, emotional exaggeration can come across as manufactured, incoherent and unbelievable.


A juror in who has remained anonymous, told ABC News: “A majority of the jury felt she was more the aggressor…”.


The jury felt ‘uncomfortable‘ and thought Heard cried ‘crocodile tears’.


Stay composed.


People react favorably to consistent demeanors.


One of the seven members of the jury said that much of his cohort felt for Depp.


He was more believable. He just seemed a little more real in terms of how he was responding to questions. His emotional state was very stable throughout.”


  1. Eye Contact

Witnesses are taught to look directly at the person speaking to them, no matter how difficult.


Eye contact can convey truthfulness and a connection between the speaker and the audience.


It helps if you maintain eye contact with intent to help your case.



One notable point in the Depp-Heard trial occurred when a deposition video showed Heard rolling her eyes.


That brief moment was widely shared on social media platforms.


Johnny Depp’s lawyer called her out.


And it made an impression on the jury.



  1. Tonality

As with composure and eye contact, seasoned experts watch their tonality.


The right tonality helps control the pace of questioning.


The right tonality gives the expert time to understand each question and answer slowly.


Experts giving testimony should be aware how an answer is delivered can matter more than what is actually said.


A high pitched or combative tonality may switch listeners off.


This detracts the audience from your credibility to focus on your delivery.



Expert Witness Testimony Tips


If you are looking to hire an expert, remember the CET formula as a guide:


  1. Composure
  2. Eye Contact
  3. Tonality



Power moves to differentiate yourself as an expert





It’s your job to keep your composure as an expert witness. It’s the lawyer’s job to make you lose it. – Siong Yoong


What your audience experiences is more important than your expertise.


After all, people don’t remember what you say or do.


They remember how you make them feel.

Make Your Move™.


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I talk about #entrepreneurship, #management, #marketing, #mergersandacquisitions and #venturecapital.

P.S. Have a merger or acquisition (“M&A”) deal or dispute that’s draining you? Visit www.thevallaris.com.