So You Want To Be An ‘Expert’?

Expert (noun) – anyone with specialist knowledge not commonly held, or likely to be understood by a layman which qualifies them to present their opinion about the facts of a case during legal proceedings.

If you are a quantum, delay or technical specialist and keen on building a career as an ‘expert’, then take note; this role can be challenging for the newly initiated. So here are five top tips for successfully launching your career.

1. Be mindful of first ‘expert’ impressions

First impressions definitely count. Yet contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have grey hair or a string of qualifications behind your name to be an expert. Most important is a) your superior knowledge of a particular subject matter and b) your ability to communicate complex scenarios in simple and easy to understand terms; a) because it’s why people will hire you and b) because a judge is not a technical expert and will rely upon you to explain, for example, the benefits of hot dip galvanising in lieu of cold galvanising treatments.

2. Keep it simple

How many of you have read an expert report from cover to cover? There are some — in fact many — experts out there that seem to revel in complicated language that sends you running for a thesaurus. Complicated and highly technical language just makes things harder for a layman (or judge) to understand the points of your argument.

This great quote sums things up nicely:

“The essence of all reports is enlightenment, we expect to lift readers from the foggy mists of confusion onto higher ground where they can enjoy clarity of vision and understanding”1.

When writing your report, keep it clear, logical and concise to ensure your points of argument are clearly understood by the reader.

3. Stick to areas within your jurisdiction

Depending on your professional background, you may be somewhat or fully conversant with many or all aspects of a case, but don’t fall into the trap of delving into areas beyond your jurisdiction. The majority of experts are not practicing lawyers and should be strictly bound by responding to the instructions given. It sounds simple but many experts have fallen foul of this temptation and been severely criticised in court.

If you do extend into areas beyond your jurisdiction in your report, make sure you and your lawyer are prepared to answer any questions that might arise. If the “off-piste” parts of your report are critical of something the client has done, or contrary to a (non-contentious) position they have taken, having to explain this section of the report in court can prove to be embarrassingly difficult for you and your lawyer.

4. Invest time into initial appraisals

Invest a lot of your time into initial appraisals immediately upon receipt of instructions so that you don’t have to ask for further documentation at a later stage.

It is very unsettling for lawyers to learn of an expert’s difficulty in drawing conclusions due to a lack of access to documents for the first time in a draft report. It is equally hard for them to deal with last minute requests for documents or information received close to the deadline.

5. Don’t take it personally

Finally, don’t take things too personally! While you may be proud of your report, understand that it will come under intense scrutiny and be subject to constructive criticism. It is all part of the process to developing a robust and succinct report that will support you as the matter progresses to a satisfactory conclusion.

Now, I hope I haven’t put off any of you that have aspirations of being experts. Notwithstanding the challenges, it is a very rewarding role and, for many, can be the pinnacle of a long and successful career spent in the construction industry.

  1. Extracted from ‘The Perfect Expert Report’ by Jeff Whitfield