As a clinician, you have likely acquired many of the tangential but necessary skills that ensure your professional success. The good news is, you can build on that foundation as you are working to establish a thriving and successful medico-legal practice. In this post, I will discuss some of the aspects that I have found to be essential as I grew my own practice.
This type of work can be both challenging and rewarding, but it is important that you continue to have a grounding in clinical work throughout. The court calls on an expert witness not just for their expertise but also for their relevant knowledge in their specified field. Therefore, to be a successful expert witness you need to continue with your clinical practice. This means you will need to maintain a fine balance between your clinical work and your medico-legal endeavour as the former will lend valuable credibility to the latter.
While working to find the right balance for you, be prepared to not have a typical working day. You may have to split your time between caring for patients, writing reports and appearing in court. The workload may be unpredictable and irregular. It is important to have the right tools in place so you can rise to the challenge but remember to remain flexible throughout. Understand that you will not always be in control of your own time, especially when it comes to court days, and prepare for those eventualities as much as possible. It is however important to keep a clear distinction between your clinical practice and your medico-legal practice and either time shift clinical commitments or use leave to make time for medico-legal fixed appointments
Developing systems to helps you stay organised is key for meeting the demands of running a successful practice. The consequences stemming from missed deadlines and misfiled paperwork could seriously impact both the expert and the client. To set yourself up for success, you must structure your time in a way that allows you to fully focus on the work at hand. Accept that you may not be able to produce a thoughtful report after a full day of seeing patients. Instead, build time dedicated to that into your schedule to allow the work the attention and perspicacity it deserves.
Being reliable, consistent and providing evidence based opinions will help you build a strong reputation for yourself. Forming good working relationships with solicitors and medico-legal agencies, while maintaining the all important independence required of the expert witness will increase your chances of being instructed on for a case. You must be prepared to market yourself, and the best marketing is the positive experience of your clients. This can be achieved by remaining well-informed about your field and the duties of an expert witness, being flexible and resilient in the face of changing priorities and having the right systems in place to keep you organised and minimise error.
The process of establishing a medico-legal practice is long and demanding, but it is highly rewarding and indeed adds to your clinical duties. It is important to be aware of the challenges that lie ahead, but it is equally important to be open to new opportunities. Hopefully, reading about some of my experiences can help guide you as you take these first steps.