The question I get asked quite a lot, especially by those Quantity Surveyors and Planners who are looking to make their first step into the construction Expert Witness sector, is this. “How do I know if it’s the right move for me?”
So I have decided to write a blog, with 12 points that I think are worth considering, when looking into this rewarding area of work.
The 12 points are as follows:
1. Which aspects of your current work do you most enjoy?
Depending on your answer to this question, it might be one of the key deciders. Those who find it an easier transfer into this specialist field, are those that aren’t phased by the back end nitty gritty detail of QS or Planning duties. Being a quality Expert Witness requires a lot of detailed analysis from those who are willing to not cut corners, see past the “big picture” and get to the problem of the matter utilising their natural and acquired Quantum or Delay skills. If you are someone who has these attributes and enjoys getting into the minute detail of your work, this could be a very exciting and rewarding long term career for you. If you are someone who likes to focus on the bigger picture and avoid highly analytical work, this may not be the best move.
2. Are any of these your key drivers?
Salary is a key driver for most people, so there’s no shame in admitting it! It might help to know that in the Expert Witness field, long term salary gains are extremely rewarding, especially if you reach the Associate Director level and beyond. Salaries rise much more steeply at this level than they would otherwise increase within a Main Contracting or Standard Consulting organisation, at say a Commercial Manager, Planning Manager or Associate Director Seniority level.
For more information on specific salaries, see point 12.
Exposure can be variable in the Expert Witness sector, just like in any organisation. However, at the top level, what defines “exposure” more so than standing in court being cross examined by highly intelligent barristers, having to think on your feet and rely on your expert Quantum or Delay knowledge? If you are looking for exposure, a long term role and becoming a leading Expert will certainly be rewarding.
It is also a suitable career however for those that want to remain at a Senior Consultant or Associate Director level, or even a Director level who acts as a “number 2” to leading Experts, but opting not to testify in court. Exposure may be slightly less in one of these positions, however you will still be integral within an Expert team and play the role as the second most senior person on major, complex arbitrations, with the work you do being scrutinised at the highest level.
In short, the amount of exposure you get will partly be down to you. You don’t HAVE to end up testifying if you don’t want to, and you will still be an extremely valuable member of a business if this is the case (and still on a rather lucrative salary as a “number 2”).
- Not being “just a number”
As touched upon in the above section about exposure, this is an area that your work will be scrutinised at the highest level. You can’t cut any corners here, and even at the more junior level your work will be looked at intensely to check that it is of the highest quality. This means, that at whichever level you work at, the work you do will be of the utmost importance to the reputation of your business, and with you being rewarded well for the best work that you produce.
If you are motivated by a good financial bonus, the Expert Witness sector is one which pays well in this regard. Bonuses are usually far higher in the Expert Witness sector than in other areas of construction, although variable from employer to employer. Depending on the company, high performers can often attain bonuses of 20%-30% of their base salary in both Quantum and Delay roles (and in rarer cases above even this).
3. Are you motivated enough to attain qualifications?
Most people who reach the senior level in this field have good, relevant qualifications. I have been told by a Director of a leading Expert Witness consultancy in London that for their Delay division, qualifications aren’t as important as solid, on site engineering or planning experience, and even those who can speak multiple languages. We do however find a correlation, even in Delay, that those who reach the more senior levels in this area attain qualifications such as the following:
Delay: CIArb (Member / Fellow), MSc or PgDip in Construction Law, Membership to the SCL, and perhaps membership to relevant Project Management institutes.
Quantum: RICS (Member / Fellow), MSc or PgDip in Construction Law, CIArb (Member / Fellow), Membership to the SCL. NOTE: RICS remains most important for Quantum specialists.
To conclude, as a Quantum (QS) specialist, I would strongly recommend pursuing RICS Membership as a priority. In Delay, it might be worth considering the qualifications above long term, and perhaps in the short-medium term if you want to stick out from the competition somehow.
4. How much experience do you need?
To enter into this sector, you need some form of QS or Planning, Engineering or Construction Management experience. The tougher question is, how much is the ideal amount before you transfer?
The minimum amount of experience that we have successfully found someone work for in this sector, is around 4 to 5 years of experience. Any less than this, and we feel that most (not all) employers may not be as interested, as a solid grounding in the relevant discipline is a very important factor for this type of work.
We have also found work for those very senior within Main Contracting and Consulting organisations, in the Expert Witness sector. In this instance however, it is more likely that you may have to consider a pay drop to enter into this field. You may find your salary increases faster than other, less experienced employees once you’re in, however Expert Witness firms can’t warrant meeting some current salaries, if you have yet to experience working for an Expert Witness sector firm. For instance, I have had experience of finding a particular person a great opportunity in this field, and because their motives aligned with this sector, they accepted a pay drop of over £25,000 in initial basic salary. The reason being is because they were confident in their pursuit of this type of work, and knew that the potential rewards in the future could vastly outweigh their previous salary should they perform well.
I am aware that not everyone would be willing to take a large pay cut to make the jump. I would recommend that anywhere from the QS level and Associate Director/Commercial Manager level might be an ideal stage to transfer should you not wish to experience too much of an initial pay cut. However, I would still recommend to others to consider the transfer if all of your other motives align.
5. Do you have the right experience?
The ideal candidates we look for, are those with the following attributes of experience:
- Strong continuity of employment
- Large project experience
- Experience throughout the life cycle of projects
- Qualifications (as seen in point 3), or willingness to undertake
- Experience for reputable companies, ideally major contractors or consultancies (however not essential, as we can find diamonds in many places!)
With these being said, we recommend getting in touch even if you don’t tick all of the boxes above. Requirements are often changing so it is worth applying even if this is the case.
6. Do you like variety?
There are pro’s and con’s when it comes to variety in the Expert Witness sector.
The supporting case would argue that you will experience a lot of variety in project sectors, whereas it is easy to get pigeon holed within a contracting or consulting company. Even if you are a build specialist, you will likely be getting exposure to major petrochemical plant disputes, or perhaps in the rail sector on a complex dispute. As you progress, you will also experience a lot of variety in regards to the management of consultants, becoming integral in editing expert reports writing by these consultants, and testifying in court if you so wish.
The case for the opposition would argue that initially, your skills that are in the highest demand would be your pure QS or Planning skills when undergoing expert Quantum or Delay analysis on disputes. You will also be writing many sections of expert reports and handing them up the chain to the lead Expert until you have shown the ability to progress to the next level in the business. This being said, progression can be achieved very quickly if you show the ability at an early stage.
7. Are you willing to put in the hours on occasion? (Worth it!)
The expert witness field is one full of deadlines for which expert reports must be submitted. Sometimes, this means that longer hours are required to get the work done. If you are strictly a 9-5 individual, this probably isn’t the sector for you. On the flip side, it can sometimes work the other way round. Some businesses may give you the flexibility to get the work done as it fits in your own timetable – as long as it gets done of course. If you have just worked your socks off, and produced a magnificent piece of work before the deadline comes around, you may even get a few hours off the next week. But don’t worry – as a sector that is rife with opportunity and growing in size in the UK, there will be plenty to get your teeth into!
8. Are you willing to take a side step in salary to reap future rewards?
If you are considering a switch into the Expert Witness sector with a specialist firm, those that usually succeed are those that are willing to take an initial side step in salary to enter into the market. Those that are looking for a pay rise to enter the Expert Witness sector, usually don’t have the correct motives for this sector and may not succeed.
Long term, salaries can be very lucrative. However, you need to be willing to put in the work and prove yourself at your level of experience, and be willing to reap the financial rewards in the future in regards to basic salary. You will likely however earn more than your previous salary overall anyway, due to the bonus you could receive at the end of your first year!
9. What location do you work in? Are you willing to relocate?
Most opportunities are in London (in the UK at least). Maxim recruit for companies with offices elsewhere in the UK and have successfully done so on multiple occasions, however London is the hot bed for opportunities like this. It is where most of the big players have their main offices, and work on major disputes internationally from a London office. It is the case that some companies in London have branch offices elsewhere in the UK however.
As you progress, senior employees sometimes work less than 5 days a week in the office as there may be flexibility to work from home if required in this sector. However, it is more likely you will succeed in this field if you build up a reputation for yourself work 5 days a week in a London office, and so living closer to London at least to start with could prove vital from an employer’s perspective.
10. Would you like overseas travel from time to time?
The beauty of Expert Witness sector opportunities in the UK, is that despite a lot of the disputes you work on having the potential to be overseas on major international projects, you will do most of this work from a UK office (likely London as discussed above). However, there will be times when you progress to the more senior levels when you may be required to travel overseas or to a UK site on a fact finding mission. If you like the odd bit of a travel, this could be a bonus.
11. What are the potential basic salaries at the top level?
The exciting question! The answer, is largely varied and it is often difficult to give a specific band when people reach above the Associate Director level.
Associate Directors are usually paid somewhere in the range of £85,000 - £110,000. Directors who act as “number 2’s”, and that are far more experienced in doing so and potentially starting to testify themselves and have a slightly larger network of contacts to bring in business, can sometimes be on more than this up to around £125,000. Lead Experts’ salaries become quite sporadic above this basic salary, along with bonuses alike and potentially profit shares in a business.
(Largely varied. AD’s in London up to £110k, Directors who act as number two’s can sometimes be on up to £125k on occasion, with Lead Experts on major international disputes salaries’ being more sporadic above this base salary + bonuses or profit shares.
12. Current opportunities
To see our current opportunities for your final assessment, please see our most exciting and current jobs at Maxim Recruitment. At present, we are mainly seeking those at the Senior Consultant level and Associate Director level in Central London, for market leading expert witness consultancies, in both Quantum and Delay.
If you are interested in applying to any of our roles on our website (see link in point 12), don’t hesitate to send in your up to date CV for review. If we feel we can help either now or in the future, we will be in touch for an introductory, confidential conversation.