I’m often asked by colleagues what makes a good medico-legal expert in complex high value (multi-track) cases. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot since I started doing this kind of work and something I’ve discussed with solicitors, time and again.

A commitment to the caseload

Being a medical expert witness is not a trivial undertaking. People should certainly not view this work as an easy way to make money. Of course, it’s possible to make a good living, but only for people who have something valuable to offer.

It’s also a competitive business, so being as good as you can be makes a big difference to the number of instructions you will receive. Like most aspects of professional life, the more you put into it the more you get out in several ways.

First and foremost, medico-legal expert work requires real commitment in order to deliver the high standards of service that are required by the Courts and legal teams.

In addition to providing an initial report based on a home visit, there are very likely to be conference calls or face to face meetings with the instructing solicitor and barrister, other experts and even the client and their family.

In addition, further review of documents arising from the rehabilitation process, further full reports and joint statements with the equivalent expert on the other side are often required.

Going the extra mile for your client

As an expert in you field, your clinical experience and your understanding of the medico-legal process is really taken as read by the Courts. However, becoming recognised as a good medico-legal expert requires that you go further than this.

Solicitors value experts who are friendly, readily available, open to dialogue about their opinion in the context of the claim, express themselves clearly and concisely in writing, and will stick to that opinion substantially as they proceedings evolve, especially when answering Part 35 questions or preparing a joint statement.

Most medico-legal experts have full or substantial part time jobs which preclude them from doing private work at certain times of the day. Taking on more than a very minor medico-legal commitment is likely to put this obligation under pressure, because solicitors often want to talk to experts during normal office hours and certainly, case conferences almost always take place then.

It is the nature of this work that Court reports may come under scrutiny, and a good medical expert needs to be open to this and be prepared, diplomatically, to reassert their opinion. There is no room for an expert who is unable to make themselves available or unwilling to enter into a dialogue with either the legal team or other experts.

A valuable part of the legal team

It is essential that a medico-legal expert appreciates their role in the process of a claim and their importance to the team which is brought together and co-ordinated by the instructing solicitor. It’s so important that the expert witness remembers this important point: it’s a team effort, so being a good team player is a real advantage.

A good expert and team member should always try to deploy the softer skills of being a good clinician; punctuality, courtesy, friendliness, careful listening and expression, and appreciation of the role of others.

Key also to the team is the barrister whom you are likely to encounter during a case conference, and it is often on their recommendation that solicitors instruct experts.

Like any team, the litigation team functions best when the members have worked together previously and know what to expect from one another. Becoming part of that team is a gradual process of proving yourself to the instructing solicitor.

Good communication matters

Communication by email with the solicitor is fundamental to being a good team member, especially where there are likely to be delays in meeting deadlines. If the legal team knows in advance that there will be a delay, they can very often accommodate it, but they may react very badly to being kept in the dark and then surprised!

When you’re building your case load as a medico-legal expert, consider your reputation. It’s really bad for reputation building to take on too much work and fail to deliver, and much better to start slow and build gradually, while delivering quality reports.

Be impartial, expert and confident

While of course the duty of an expert is to the Court, and not to be partisan for claimant or defendant, it is essential that in delivering an impartial medical opinion, the medical expert becomes a full member of the team – whichever side has made the instruction. Remember, if you allow yourself to be swayed in your opinion from that which you really believe, you risk being exposed by your opposite number and by the evidence base.

Barristers want expert witnesses who are professionally credible, presentable and articulate on their team. So, it’s very important for an expert to make a good impression on the barrister, as even though these days the chances are vanishingly small, the expert may have to appear in court and be cross-examined.

A chance to make a positive difference

Being a medico- legal expert is a really interesting and rewarding area of medical practice, all the more so if undertaken enthusiastically. Expert witness work is also an opportunity to positively influence the lives of people with complex injuries and disabilities – those injured in accidents or through negligence, by helping to direct the use of the substantial financial resources of insurers.

Looking to instruct an expert witness? Trust NRC Medical Experts , the the UK’s only medico-legal expert witness chambers run by neurological rehabilitation professionals. 

Could you change someone’s life by sharing your expertise with the Courts?

Join Dr Bonikowski as an expert witness at NRC Medical Experts

NRC Medical Experts believe that everyone who suffers a brain or spinal injury or neurological condition could benefit from neurorehabilitation. Its mission is to ensure that solicitors have hassle-free access to medico-legal reporting and expert witness testimony, as soon as possible, so the fight for the right rehabilitation pathway can begin.