Launching an expert witness practice

  • Published: February 19, 2021
  • Author: Sarah Sellars, Consultant, Inspire MediLaw

Getting a medico-legal practice up and running is straightforward – but keeping it going efficiently requires careful management. Some medical experts prefer to deal with the logistics and administration themselves, using tailored software and systems. Others appoint a secretary or practice manager, or outsource specific tasks to a practice management company.

The best place to start is to attend expert witness training. Your medico-legal work will form part of your professional career. It is important to fully understand what you must do to comply with relevant professional and legal requirements. Asking experts with an existing practice for tips and pointers is also a great way to gather the knowledge you need to start well.

Marketing yourself as an expert witness

Circulating an engaging CV can be a great springboard for networking and marketing. Maintain a full, up-to-date CV for attaching to reports, and keep a pared-down version for sending to contacts or publishing on your webpage.

Your CV should feature your name and job title in large and bold font so that they cannot be missed! Include the relevant contact details for medico-legal enquiries, and set out your current role and a short summary of what you do in clinical practice. This is essential so that solicitors can identify whether you have the expertise they seek. They will not be able to establish this from reading your job title or past appointments.

Add past senior appointments to help solicitors spot obvious conflicts of interest with the case in hand. Professional qualifications, awards and memberships are important to mention, but save the narrative details for the long-form CV, where you should include a full list of your publications, presentations and research.

Given that a short CV is intended to elicit instructions for medico-legal work, make sure you tailor it accordingly. Mention past or current medico-legal reporting experience and training. You should indicate if you’ve provided expert evidence to the Coroner, or the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), or been involved in the investigation of complaints and serious adverse incidents in your Trust or elsewhere within the profession. 

Website and social media

It is a good idea to build an online presence. Lawyers may want to do some research before choosing their expert. A simple website detailing your specialist area of clinical practice, your terms and conditions, testimonials, and details of fees and consulting rooms will help build a picture of your practice.  

Many experts also get involved using social media where there is a lot of medico-legal discussion and debate, particularly on Twitter and LinkedIn. Be aware that people from across the medico-legal sector will be looking at what you post, so maintain a professional standard at all times.

Building relationships in the medico-legal sector

Joining a local medico-legal society will help you build connections locally, and attending training and events run by expert witness organisations will enable you to meet medico-legal colleagues from further afield.

There are opportunities for medical experts to speak at conferences and events. Some experts enjoy writing articles for publication online and in medico-legal journals. You might consider contacting law firms with a clinical negligence practice and offer to speak to their team about medico-legal issues relevant to your clinical practice. 

The key thing to remember is that your reputation will be built by what others say about you. So the best way to market your practice is to be an objective, reliable expert who is spoken of with respect.

Administration

This is perhaps the least interesting aspect of running an expert witness practice; but getting the administration right is crucial.

You must have a robust system in place for identifying conflicts of interest. That way, when you receive a phone call or letter of enquiry, you can establish whether you have any connection or prior involvement with the organisation or individuals concerned. 

As your practice builds, so will the pressure on your time. Ensure you have blocked out the time needed to complete your various tasks during the litigation process for every case, as soon as you know the timescales and key dates. These tasks include:

  • reviewing records and witness statements
  • assessing the claimant
  • preparing and finalising your report
  • calls or meetings with those instructing you
  • reading and considering other expert evidence in the case
  • attending conferences with Counsel
  • attending and writing up the meeting with the expert on the other side
  • preparation for, and giving evidence in, Court. 

There will be times when those instructing you need your input at short notice. This will be easier to complete when your workload is well managed.

Invoicing and financial records

Make sure you stipulate your terms of engagement at the outset, including your hourly rates, cancellation charges and payment terms. When it comes to keeping records of time spent and expenses incurred, be meticulous. 

It is a good idea to include some narrative with your invoice, such as time spent on preparation, research, writing and so on. Keeping records will enable you to go back and check details at a later date, should any query arise.

It’s not uncommon for an expert to have to chase for payment, and you should not feel uncomfortable doing so. You are entitled to be paid for your time and expertise. Some experts do not release their report until their invoice has been paid. Others have template credit control emails that are sent at specific intervals on and after payment falls due. When an invoice is outstanding, some find that a quick phone call to the fee earner who is running the case will suffice.  

Don’t forget: you must register your medico-legal practice for VAT if it turns over £85,000 in any 12-month period. 

Your data protection obligations

Your expert witness practice must be compliant with the relevant data protection legislation. Paperwork relating to your instructions should be stored securely, and you should audit your database of the records you hold at least once a year. The ‘database’ can simply be a list in a word document or a spreadsheet. When you update it, you should add new information to each record rather than overwriting previous entries.  This creates a paper trail of your handling of all data.  

Write and maintain a privacy policy, outlining how you handle and store data. This should be published on your website if you have one, and available on request otherwise. You are responsible for having a data processing agreement in place with any person or organisation who assists you in your expert witness practice, such as a records collator, your secretary, or practice management companies. 

Get started as an expert witness!

Do your research. Talk to doctors with an existing medico-legal practice, and ask them how it has worked for them.  

Ensure you understand the time commitment and the responsibility involved in running an expert witness practice.  

Consider asking someone with an established practice to be available to mentor or guide you through the first few years of your practice. It is invaluable to have someone to ask if you are uncertain about processes and procedures.  

With a solid practice management framework in place, your practice can run smoothly, leaving you free to concentrate on formulating and presenting your expert opinion.

Want to find out more about getting started?

At Inspire MediLaw, we provide face-to-face and online training to help medical professionals get started in medico-legal practice. We cover all the legal requirements and skills you’ll need, as well as providing ongoing support and mentoring. 

Please take a look at our expert witness training and also our Medico-Legal Practice Management course.

 

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