There comes a point in any ambitious construction disputes professionals career when they seek their opportunity to take on the role as the lead expert.
It is commonly the end goal for many who work within specialist expert witness consultancies.
It is also the most common career orientated motivation I hear from candidates for seeking a change of employer.
The simple fact is, it can be very difficult to break into a lead expert role. However, here a few bits of advice on how to achieve this goal, based on what our industry leading clients are telling us they require from candidates to work in leadership roles.
1. Be Patient and Earn your Right to be a Lead Expert
Whilst plenty of very good candidates have a genuine case for feeling frustrated at the lack of opportunities to become a lead expert within their current employer. It would be fair to say that in some instances, it is simply a case of dedicating more time and effort towards gaining the skills and experience required to command a dispute assignment as the lead expert.
Whilst working for a good employer within the disputes sector, your career can often be mapped out for you. Methodically detailing the steps you will take towards becoming a lead expert in the future. In these circumstances, it should be quite apparent if you are not progressing at a satisfactory pace.
If this has not been discussed, talk to your employer about your concerns and try to set out a measurable and achievable targets for getting your first assignment.
2. Gain the Relevant Skills & Experience
Time served is not always a true indicator of whether you are ready to take your first assignment as a Lead Expert. I do see a number of candidates who have worked in roles assisting the lead expert for many years, but still do not have all the required skills to carry out the lead expert role.
A good example of this would be report-writing skills. If you are to carry out the role as a lead expert, your report writing skills must be of the highest standard. Most experts will have learnt this from industry training and assisting with the drafting of large sections of the overall report in a lead assistant role previously.
The Lead Assistant role is a fantastic gauge of when you may be ready to step into a lead expert role. Most experts have acted as the lead assistant to the expert on in excess of 3-5 assignments (some many more) before being given the responsibility of becoming the lead expert. This role should give you invaluable experience of working directly with the lead expert as well as having managerial responsibilities and exposure to organising teams of junior staff carrying out the analysis of data. Something that any good expert must be able to do to a very high standard.
3. Build Your Reputation and Make Yourself Known
This is a very important one. As well as doing an excellent job in assisting an expert, it is vital that you make a reputation for yourself within the industry. Often the work that you produce will be overshadowed by the lead expert whose name is ultimately on the expert report and testifies based on the findings at the final hearing.
However there are a variety of activities that you can do alongside your day-to-day role, that can help improve your reputation.
Ideally, you will work for an employer who allows you to attend meetings with law firms and solicitors and clients generally. This is a great way to get introduced to clients who may either call upon you to act as an expert or have to approve you as the lead expert on an assignment.
However if not, there can be significant advantages to attending seminars and networking functions that potential clients will also be attending. This can include major events such as the Society of Construction Law Annual Dinner in London, or smaller events hosted by specialist companies or professional bodies.
Another good way to gain exposure is to write articles for your employer, the trade press or on social and business media platforms.
Make a name for yourself. I know organisations such as Who’s Who Legal recognise Future Leaders and these are widely respected achievements that can help develop your career opportunities.
4. Learn from The Best
Many clients I work with definitely show interest in which experts candidates have supported throughout their career and there is no doubt that some experts have a stronger and wider reputation than others.
Some clients will favour CV’s of candidates who have worked with experts they particularly respect. Therefore, working in a role that allows you to support a widely respected expert can have its advantages; however, this can obviously be subjective.
The logic behind this is of course that working with a widely respected expert should teach you to use widely respected methods and best practices.
If you are working hard, gaining all the relevant experience and doing most of the above and opportunities to become an expert are not presenting themselves to you. Then perhaps at that stage, you do need to consider whether changing your employer would be a sensible career move.
I am sure that some businesses identify future leaders early in their careers. Unfortunately, if your employer do not see you as a future leader, or are simply unable to win enough work to give you the opportunities you desire in a timely manner, then you may have to consider making a move to an employer who offer you these opportunities.
Maxim work with a wide range of clients in the construction disputes sector. From the larger global corporate consultancies to smaller and medium sized boutique consultancies. We pride ourselves in matching good candidates to businesses that suit each candidate’s individual circumstances and ambitions. We welcome calls from candidates seeking a consultative discussion about construction disputes careers.
Senior Recruitment Consultant, UK