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Becoming an OT expert witness by Barbara Franks, OT expert

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The following article is a personal reflection on becoming an OT expert witness, by Barbara Franks OT expert and Somek Associate Trainer...

Up until 2015 I had never heard of the term expert witness, and it was only when I began exploring the world of private occupational therapy that I came across this role and Somek and Associates as a company. I submitted an application form, as part of the recruitment process, and was invited to interview. Excellent information was given at the interview day presentation ‘The role of the expert witness and working with Somek & Associates’ and it was very clear what the role would entail. I was delighted when I was offered the role.

I began expert witness work with Somek in 2015; whilst this was a steep learning curve it opened up an entirely new world – one where OTs were recognised, valued and wanted because of our skills! This was very refreshing having worked in the NHS for many years, where I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the lack of resources to undertake meaningful assessments and for other professions to actually understand what we do!

For me this role is a constantly evolving one, as new legal updates and judgements mean that there is always something to learn. Somek have excellent partnerships with many legal firms and their solicitors and barristers present at the annual conference to provide timely updates on current legal matters.

As an expert witness you need to have excellent assessment skills, an ability to forensically examine evidence, write an in-depth report, which outlines your opinions and recommendations and is backed up by the evidence provided. Our assessments identify what functional impact an accident/clinical negligence has on an individual. Recommendations are based on what they need to put them back in the situation they would have been in had the accident or clinical negligence not occurred. This opens up a whole new world and allows you to be creative with your recommendations - you’re not bound by cost, but by what is reasonable.

Somek provide a comprehensive training programme, including the role of the expert witness, how to write medico-legal reports, and how to cost past and future care. A “dummy case” is completed by all prospective candidates to apply their transfer of learning. This gives you and Somek an opportunity to see whether you are suited to the role, without being instructed on a “live” case.

There is a team of experienced trainers who provide a quality assurance service – ensuring reports meet the standards expected and are consistent and clear. Invaluable support is also provided by the admin, case handlers and reports teams. Whilst experts have ultimate responsibility for their cases, Somek handle case enquiries, liaise with instructing parties on the expert’s behalf, provide report templates for each case and handle the financial side of each case. This is a huge benefit as completing the assessment and report is a big enough task in itself!

Ongoing virtual training runs throughout the year for each step of the legal process, as well as an annual conference. This gives experts the opportunity to meet with other experts, trainers and members of the wider team, and provides important updates on developments in the medico-legal world.

From the beginning I have felt supported to develop my skills as an expert witness through the training and resources that are provided and accompany each step of the expert witness journey. The web-based learning is invaluable and gives experts not only the opportunity to learn new information about the different stages of the litigation process but also provides peer support. Experts are located around the UK, so this allows them to feel connected to others and share knowledge and experience.

There is a monthly briefing which provides information on important updates, training and top tips to help experts with their report writing. Somek also invite external companies to provide training on aids, adaptations, vehicle adaptations and care to further assist experts in their report writing.

All of the above enable experts to develop their skills and confidence in a role that many OTs have not come across before. I have been able to progress within this role and am now an associate trainer and support new experts on their journey, as I was supported initially.

While there are other expert witness providers out there, I feel proud to work for a company who are so highly respected in the field and passionate about delivering a professional service and high quality reports. Somek advocate and actively promote the independent role of the expert witness and pride themselves on maintaining a balanced portfolio of Claimant and Defendant instructions.

If you’re looking for a new challenge and are interested in a role that enables you to work from home and is flexible to fit around your existing role/family commitments, I would highly encourage you to explore expert witness work. The role is on a self-employed basis, so you can be as busy as you choose to be, is professionally rewarding, and highly remunerated.

If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. Now could be the time to spread your wings and consider a new professional challenge!

OTs need to be working clinically and have a minimum of 8 years post qualification experience. You also need to be available for at least 8 hours per week, as the reports are in-depth and time is also required to attend case conferences and expert meetings (usually virtually).

If you are an OT interested in a new challenge we’d love to hear from you. For further information and to make an enquiry please click here. 

Barbara Franks, BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy
Managing Director - Advanced Occupational Therapist, Engage Occupational Therapy; Associate Practitioner, The OT Practice; Associate Trainer, Somek and Associates Ltd
Barbara specialises in Neurological Conditions, COPD, Fibromyalgia/CFS, Orthopaedics, Mental Health, and Chronic Pain.