The role is extremely challenging but also very rewarding
Expert evidence is invaluable in assisting courts when arguments become technical or specialist. As a result, solicitors instructing an expert witness must take great care when selecting the right person.
If you are considering the role, you will need to take a critical look at your CV to ensure that it shows all the traits that an instructing solicitor is looking for.
Having technical expertise in the area relevant to the case is the starting point when considering the career of an expert witness. Bringing out both the variety and depth of your experience from work and projects you have undertaken is likely to give you an advantage.
Devoting time and effort to putting together a strong, comprehensive and relevant CV is the first important task you need to complete.
It is expected that as an accomplished expert you will be able to demonstrate your qualifications that go with your experience. Verifiable and measurable technical and professional credentials, such as professional qualifications, membership of professional and industry bodies, authored publications and professional appointments need to be highlighted.
The relevance of your ACCA qualification and membership is evident in satisfying this requirement and will be a definitive advantage.
Expert experience and verifiable credentials are unfortunately not enough. Having expert witness experience is needed to write the expert report in a way that meets the court requirements in the highly regulated process of giving formal expert evidence.
If you currently don’t have experience as an expert witness, consider support roles that could give you exposure to the court process. Cultivating and capitalising on professional relationships with solicitors or other professionals you may have assisted in the past could develop into longer term hands-on engagements where you may have the opportunity to observe and contribute in the court evidence process and gradually take this role on independently.
ACCA is currently working with the Academy of Experts to explore and highlight to members other viable ways to gain experience as an expert witness, so check this webpage regularly as new content will be added.
Whist having experience as an expert witness is likely to be required for most solicitors looking to instruct an expert witness, having cross-examination experience in court is unlikely to be a requirement.
While public practice work is unlikely to offer many opportunities to gain in-court cross-examination experience, undertaking relevant training will, to an extent, prepare you for the challenging court room environment.
As part of its training, the Academy of Experts offers Into Court, a-day-in-the-court training session where you will have the opportunity to be cross-examined by a practising barrister in a protected environment, as well as learn, practise and improve your response technique in cross-examination.
The ability to clearly, confidently and succinctly lay out relevant factual information (rather than your personal opinion) in a manner that aids a court’s understanding of the relevant matters and enables the court to form judgment is one of the most important skills you will need as an expert witness.
At the same time, staying independent, disassociated and not being influenced by either party is a principle that should lie at the centre of your expert witness work and your communication style. Undoubtedly, you will have been used to applying the principle of objectivity and independence as an ACCA member and practitioner in your day-to-day professional life, and this familiarity is likely to ease your transition into the role.
As an expert, you will need to rely on your ability to analyse information, make observations and draw logical conclusions. Often, the amount of information you will need to analyse will be extensive, and the ability to link facts and see how detail fits into a bigger picture will be needed to be successful in this role.
Being certain of the conclusions you draw will be key to defending your position credibly, when report writing or giving oral evidence. You will need to be confident in the evidence you present and ensure that any conclusion you draw cannot be undermined.
Once written and submitted, the report cannot be changed and will reflect on you as an expert. The style of an expert report should be clear, factual and concise. It should be expressed in non-technical language and be easily readable.
The expert report follows a set structure and content, including information relevant to the scope of the report per instructions, your experience, expert declaration, supporting documentation and sources on which you base your conclusions.
The Academy of Experts covers expert witness report writing as part of its Foundation course, which addresses technical accuracy, compliance, language, style and professional guidelines you should adhere to.
While not a requirement specific to expert witness engagements, you will be expected to manage your time in a way that will ensure your availability for hearings. You will need to be responsive and able to accommodate a timetable imposed by the formal process.
The role of an expert witness is extremely challenging but also very rewarding. It may provide you with a mental challenge you have been looking for as well as an opportunity to showcase your knowledge and position yourself formally as an expert. It may also offer flexibility to manage your workload and achieve a more flexible lifestyle.
If the above does not faze you and you think you have what it takes to be an expert witness, please contact ACCA Technical Advisory. Together with the Academy of Experts, ACCA is planning to organise a series of informal joint events and webinars, to further familiarise members with the expert witness career path, so please contact us to indicate interest.