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The benefits of instructing experts through a consultancy

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Article by Alison Somek, which featured in the Summer 2019 Edition Of Expert Witness Journal

Background
Somek & Associates is experienced in providing Expert Witnesses for clinical negligence and personal injury litigation, but also in other areas of dispute involving health or disability issues. This consultancy focuses on quality over quantity, and is passionate about providing a comprehensive and professional service to its clients – and to its experts. As a medico-legal consultancy, it is not simply a “database of experts”. Most importantly Somek & Associates’ experts are recruited carefully and then trained to understand their role as expert witnesses, and their obligations under the relevant procedure rules.

Historically, there were problems with experts who were regarded as "guns for hire". A party bringing a claim would instruct medical and other experts who were known to write reports that would favour their client’s case. Equally Defendant firms would use medical experts who were favourable to them. Such practice exacerbated the adversarial nature of cases, increased costs and frustrated the process of justice. As a result of these and other concerns about the pro-cess of litigation, the Woolf Reforms were implemented 20 years ago, in April 1999, with key important changes to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) with a primary objective being that this new procedural code has an “overriding objective of enabling the court to deal with cases justly.” CPR rule 1.1(1)

The CPR (Part 35) also sets out the obligations affecting the use and behaviour of expert witnesses. The most important of these changes was undoubtedly the explicit specification that an “expert witness’ duty is to the court and not to those instructing him”. (CPR 35.3)

Expert Witnesses
Somek & Associates is proud to promote its portfolio of almost equal instructions from Claimants and Defendants. Its aim is to ensure it is always providing highly skilled and experienced expert witnesses, who are balanced and robust in their approach. With a rigorous recruitment process, extensive training, and a dedicated team of staff to continually quality assure and strive for the best, Somek & Associates can ensure they consistently deliver a high level of service for their clients, and most importantly, for the court. Somek and Associates was set up in 1997 by Alison Somek, CEO of Somek and Associates who had previously worked in the National Health Service for over 20 years, as an occupational therapist care expert. Alison has seen the medico-legal environment change dramatically over this period, but has always been passionate about professionalism and independence in her role as an expert witness, continuing to ensure that the integrity of the expert witness is embodied in the work of the associates and company as a whole.

With over 200 Healthcare Professional experts including; care experts/occupational therapists, nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and more recent additions, including a podiatrist, dietician and prosthetic expert, there is excellent capacity to meet client needs in a timely fashion. Somek & Associates knows that it is crucial to instruct experts with relevant experience to fully understand the clinical issues in the case and be able to undertake a professional and credible analysis, in addition to understanding the relevant legal principles and tests.

Importantly all of their experts continue to undertake clinical practice either in a statutory or independent setting and many care experts are practicing case managers. Additionally, there is a broad geographical base with experts located in all countries of the UK and throughout England.

Quality Assurance & Training
Whilst Somek & Associates’ experts are independent in terms of their reports and their case work, they are supported in their medico-legal development by the company, not only in terms of primary training and post case conclusion reflection, but also by encouraging regular expert witness CPD. This has resulted in a large contingent of sought-after experts, praised for their comprehensive, robustly-argued, and well-structured reports that adhere to relevant legal tests and principles.

Jessica Thurston, Chief Operating Officer for Somek & Associates is predominantly responsible for setting and maintaining standards, developing and running the training programme and quality assurance team. The comprehensive training, in conjunction with medico-legal lawyers, has been developed to enable their “experts” to become “expert witnesses” covering topics from The Role of the Expert Witness, Medico-Legal Report Writing Skills, Expert Meetings and Joint Statements, to Courtroom skills.

Somek & Associates also works in conjunction with leading expert witness training organisations including Bond Solon & Professional Solutions, and offer regular in-house courses and an annual conference with specialist speakers including solicitors and barristers.

Jessica manages the Quality Assurance team who are all experienced clinicians and experienced expert witnesses from a range of professional backgrounds, including occupational therapy, nursing, midwifery and physiotherapy, and whose aim it is to ensure reports are quality assessed and associates are supported, mainly through a system of webinars that are pertinent to the various aspects of case-work.

All their experts are allocated an Associate Trainer who is an experienced expert witness. The role of the Associate Trainer is to provide quality assurance and help develop new experts in understanding aspects of the medico-legal process and the expert witness role. Quality assurance is available for all experts when required and they have a comprehensive report evaluation system for experts and value client feedback.

Somek & Associates is passionate about the integrity of the expert witness role and maintaining independence and objectivity to underpin credibility of the expert evidence.

Quality Service
But it’s not just about the expert; other aspects of the service are also key to meeting clients’ needs and this is achieved through a dedicated team, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure they continue to assist clients. The clinical business management team, who deal with all case enquiries and instructions, comprises of experienced clinicians and expert witnesses, headed up by Occupational Therapist and expert witness Elise Warner. The team know the business of the expert witness role, so solicitors can be confident they have a sound knowledge and understanding of the clinical aspects of the case and can advise on the most appropriate expert from the pool of 200+ associates. Case files are then managed by a team of case handlers to ensure coordination consistency.

Reports
A range of report types to suit different situations, client and case needs, and funds are available. Reports can be provided for litigation and will be fully CPR compliant, or for advisory purposes. Report structures have been carefully designed by an experienced team of expert witnesses to aid clarity and logical process, taking in account client and barrister feedback. All reports are well written and presented, are relevant to the complexity and size of the case, are clearly structured with summarised conclusions and costings, meet CPR requirements (where appropriate), and meet agreed deadlines.

Relationships with Clients
Somek & Associates truly value relationships with their clients. Yvonne Lane, Client Relationship Manager, is available to meet with solicitors to discuss their individual case needs, including providing fee earners with presentations and training sessions on a range of topics, and receiving feedback on services provided.

 

 

 

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