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A Day In The Life Of An Expert Witness By Nicola Lawson

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How did you get into expert witness work and what attracted you to the role? 

I can’t actually remember how I got involved in Expert Witness work as it was quite a long time ago now, but I must say that I’m so glad I did!

It has enabled me to take a different perspective of my role as an Occupational Therapist, considering all the aspects of an individual’s life. After working in an acute hospital environment for most of my professional career, I was starting to feel like my knowledge and skills were not being used to their full potential, limiting my time and effort to discharge planning with little consideration for the patient’s needs once they were discharged home.

Expert Witness work is quite the opposite! To start with, having access to many medical reports outlining the cause and liability for each case, as well as identifying the claimant’s current condition and prognosis, is extremely helpful. Consequently, I feel well informed about the claimant well in advance of my initial assessment.

The assessment is much more detailed, taking in to account all aspects of the individual’s life, including but not limited to: work, leisure, relationships and their hopes and expectations for the future.

Is there a typical working day?

The day of an assessment starts very early with my alarm clock going off any time between 05:30 and 6am, depending on how far I have to travel. Whenever possible, I travel by car to avoid the inevitable cold and lengthy waits at train stations. Not to mention the fact that I can have a good old sing-a-long to myself, listening to the car radio!

The assessments are rather lengthy but somehow this time passes so quickly. Running out of time is always my main concern because I need to ensure that I have enough information and cover all the areas that are important to the claimant. I find that it’s a good idea to read the claimant’s witness statement prior to the assessment so that I’m fully aware of their situation and how it affects them on a daily basis; this saves me a lot of time during the assessment.

A quiet drive home (no radio or singing!) is always a great opportunity to gather my thoughts and work out what care, equipment and services would be beneficial to the claimant. I consider different scenarios in my head until I’m confident with my recommendations. Once home, I write all these thoughts down immediately, so all my recommendations are documented and fully considered, ready for when I tackle the report.

What are the highs and lows of being an expert witness?

Report writing is a lengthy and often frustrating process. Despite my best attempts at dedicating the next couple of weeks to work on my report, other unexpected work priorities inevitably crop up. I have tried various ways to dedicate my time to one report at a time, but I always end up challenged trying to complete the report by the agreed deadline. My office looks like a bomb has hit it and my family avoid me at all costs.

Despite all this, I thoroughly enjoy my role as an Expert Witness. I feel appreciated and part of a team (both working with Somek and the instructing legal team). It enables me to work from home and juggle family commitments more easily, and best of all I get to see my lovely daughter play hockey every Wednesday afternoon!

What advice would you give to other health professionals in your line of clinical work looking to enter the medico-legal profession and become an expert witness?

When considering entering into the world of medico-legal work, I recommend that all clinicians ensure they sign up with an experienced medico-legal consultancy to ensure they are fully trained and supported in this area of work. It is essential that they have undergone training in Civil Procedure Rules and Courtroom skills, as well as report writing and have a good understanding of the medico-legal process. Somek & Associates provide in-house training to all associates and experienced trainers are on hand to support and answer any questions.

Finally, ensure you are able to commit the time to learning this area of practice. As with all new skills there is the inevitable learning curve that requires commitment, dedication and time, but once mastered it will reward you in ways you never imagined!