Is Expert Witness Work Right for You?
Posted by Specialist Claims and Dispute Team, Maxim Recruitment on Monday, March 22, 2021
3 years ago my ex-colleague Adam Cadwaladr wrote a fantastic blog titled ’12 points to assess whether expert witness work is for you’. This is an article that has helped many candidates to establish whether moving into this niche area of the construction industry is for them. 3 years on, the fundamental points made in this article remain as useful as they were the day they were written. However, I’d like to expand and update on a few of the points raised in the original article to bring it up to date.
Which aspect of your current work do you enjoy most?
As stated in the original article, analytical candidates with an eye for detail tend to suit expert witness work very well. This is still and always will be the case.
An additional point I would like to raise relates to site-based staff, and is a warning to those who enjoy being on site regularly. I’ve seen and heard this on a number of occasions over the years; Quantity Surveyors, Planners and Engineers telling me that they like the cut and thrust of being on site regularly, but that they are also considering expert witness work. The expert witness role is almost all office-based work with little to no site visits required. Therefore, if you do enjoy being on site, then expert witness work may not be for you.
If you are sure that you want to specialise in claims and disputes work, but enjoy getting to site, perhaps a claims consultancy role may suit you better, where you’ll likely have site visits and still have interaction with on the ground construction as part of your role.
Are you motivated enough to attain qualifications?
They key qualifications for each profession remain as per the original article:
CIArb (Member / Fellow), MSc or PgDip in Construction Law, Membership to the SCL, and perhaps membership to relevant Project Management institutes.
RICS (Member / Fellow), MSc or PgDip in Construction Law, CIArb (Member / Fellow), Membership to the SCL. NOTE: RICS remains most important for Quantum specialists.
The one thing I would point out is that you do not need to attain all of these qualifications before moving into an expert witness role. For quantum roles, the MRICS professional qualification is seen as essential for those transitioning into the sector for the first time.
Regardless of the qualifications and professional memberships you hold, the key is that you need to be willing to continue your studies going forward. If you are someone who is tired of studying and have no desire to gain further qualifications, then expert witness work is likely not a good fit career path for you.
What location do you work in? Are you willing to relocate?
As the original article suggests, London is the central hub for expert witness consultancies in the UK and to a significant extent the international market also. 3 years on, this remains the case.
There are a small number of the larger London based consultancies who have offices in other parts of the UK. There are also a number of claims consultancies with regional offices outside of London that carry out some expert witness work, even if it does only account for a small proportion of their workload.
Common areas of the UK, outside of London, where Maxim Recruitment work with such consultancies include:
- The North West (Manchester & Liverpool in particular)
- Yorkshire (Leeds & Sheffield in particular)
- The Midlands (Birmingham & around parts of Staffordshire)
Many of our clients also have international offices, with the following being key areas:
- Hong Kong
Despite operating from these international offices, many of our clients have their largest office in London and the international offices are used as local hubs to keep a local presence in those markets to help generate work, much of which is actually delivered from London.
It’s very common to have London based staff either leading or supporting on international disputes all around the world, regardless of whether the company has an office in that location.
Therefore, if you really want to maximise your chances of succeeding in the expert witness sector, London is realistically still the primary location to be based from or be able to commute to now and for the foreseeable future.
Are your writing skills up to scratch?
This is a key point that isn’t mentioned in the original article.
Having strong writing skills is a fundamental skill to successfully working as an expert witness. If you reach the stages where you are testifying and putting your name to the expert report then you will be heavily judged on your written testimony. Staff working in a supporting role need to have exceptionally strong writing skills and be able to write flawless reports.
A number of testifying expert witnesses have expressed their frustration to me at staff working in supporting roles who cannot write to a sufficiently literate and lucid standard. The consequence of this, is that the lead expert then has to correct and improve the draft text rather than be able to quickly check and sign it off, wasting valuable time. A good junior team player that supports an expert should be able to save the lead testifying expert time by drafting sections of the expert report that require little to no amendments.
Therefore, if you are someone that doesn’t enjoy writing important detailed, accurate and lucid reports and are perhaps prone to making spelling, formatting and grammatical mistakes, then you may struggle to make the grade on the pathway to becoming a valuable support to an expert witness or eventually an expert witness yourself.
Are you able to remain impartial?
A final point is your ability to remain impartial as an expert witness. Much of your work as an expert witness will see you acting in a role where your duty is to the court rather than any specific party involved in the dispute. Therefore, it is critical to remain impartial when providing your evidence.
This can be problematic for candidates who have worked in the claims arena previously where they are used to writing narratives in a subjective manner in order to put the facts ‘in the best light’.
Whilst there is definitely an advantage to having a good knowledge of contracts, contractual issues and claims & disputes when moving into expert witness work, there can also be a level of scepticism from hiring managers towards candidates who have worked in a more subjective claims writing environment for a long time. There seem to be a significant number of candidates who struggle to transition from claims work and looking at disputes subjectively, to expert work where it is essential to take an objective view. Impartiality is fundamental skill to succeeding as an expert witness.
All in all, the original Maxim article written in 2018 stands the test of time surprisingly well, and makes some great points worth considering if you are looking to transition into expert witness work. Hopefully I’ve been able to expand upon the article further here with a couple of additional points to reflect on if you are considering your career options.