Making your opinion count: What it takes to be an Expert Witness

Expert Witness Gary Ford on why he took up the role, what his challenges are and why going to court can be daunting.

Expert witness Gary Ford has been an associate at Jane James & Associates for over eight years, undertaking instructions for both claimant and defendant solicitors in the areas of care, occupational therapy and vocational rehabilitation. He talks about some of the highlights, as well as challenges of his job and what qualities are essential to be an expert witness.

Tell us about your professional background

I am a registered occupational therapist and have worked in the care sector for more than 20 years. I have had posts within the NHS, occupational health, rehabilitation, voluntary work, and within litigation.

I am now working as a clinician and independent case manager in private practice, as well as an expert witness specialising in the fields of brain injury, long-term neurological conditions, and mental health conditions, as well as catastrophic injuries.

What are the differences between a case manager and an expert witness?

Both case management and expert witness work are concerned with addressing the needs of a client after personal injury. There are differences between working as a case manager and working as an expert witness, although many of the skills and attributes are interchangeable.

When working as a case manager, I am there to act in the best interests of the client and to assist them in reaching their maximum potential within their rehabilitation.

Case management initially involves undertaking an assessment of the client’s needs and then ensuring that the right professionals are involved to assist the client to make medical, social, vocational and psychological recovery.  I will oversee the rehabilitation team and undertake reviews to ensure that progress is being made in the right direction. I have an in-depth knowledge of the client, as well as the presenting injury or injuries, which enables me to bring in the right clinical team to meet the client’s needs. I could be instructed unilaterally by the claimant or defendant solicitors, or jointly by both.

As an expert witness, I am working within the litigation process and my overriding duty and responsibility is to the court.  My role is to give an unbiased and impartial opinion to the Court within my areas of expertise, which include care, occupational therapy and vocational rehabilitation.

It is equally important to have an in-depth knowledge of the client and the health condition, to enable me to formulate my opinions regarding their needs within my area of expertise, and how much it would cost to put the client in a position that they would have been had the accident or event not occurred.

As an expert witness, I will consider the other expert evidence that has been made available to me, for example, these could be orthopaedic reports, medical reports, and psychiatry reports. The reports will assist me to make fully informed clinical recommendations.

What made you decide to become an expert witness?

I was always interested in expert witness work while I was working as a clinician and as a case manager and I had the opportunity to meet several people working within this field.

I made the decision to become an expert witness because I felt that I had the right level of clinical experience and knowledge to be able to provide well-informed, robust and clinically reasoned recommendations.

What training do you need to be an expert witness?

JJ&A provides us with training and peer to peer support but it is also recommended within the team to undertake accredited medico-legal training. I have undergone postgraduate training in civil law and procedure, excellence in report writing, courtroom skills and cross examination.

The cases I am instructed on are highly complex claims, so it is very important to ensure that you have sufficient knowledge and experience to underpin the clinical reasonings associated with the recommendations you have made within your report.

Does being a case manager help or hinder being an expert witness?

Working as a case manager certainly compliments my role as an expert witness. As a case manager, I am working at the coalface so to speak, so I am aware of what works and how to manage rehabilitation teams and most importantly, how much it all costs.

As a case manager, I need to be skilled in identifying the needs of a client and putting in interventions, equipment and the like, to ensure that those needs are met.

As an expert witness, I also require those skills to make appropriate and reasonable recommendations, which are then put into a detailed report for the Court and include all the relevant costs for past, current and future care needs, and any aids and equipment the client may require.

You obviously enjoy the job. Where does the satisfaction come from?

I find working as an expert witness extremely satisfying. Working in this role is challenging both from a professional and personal perspective. It is hard work but I gain satisfaction from the knowledge that I have undertaken a robust assessment of the claimant and applied clinical reasoning to my recommendations. It is particularly gratifying to know that my recommendations are of assistance to the court.

What is it like to go to court and give evidence?

I have been to court to provide evidence and to be cross-examined on a number of occasions throughout my career, but not in recent years. It is well known that now most cases will settle outside of court.

The courtroom is not a natural or familiar environment for a clinician, and it can be somewhat daunting. However, if I have to attend Court as an expert witness, I will go in the full knowledge that I have understood and applied the evidence to my recommendations and that my recommendations are robust and reasonable.

What qualities and skills do you need to be an expert witness?

As an expert witness, you need to have a number of different qualities and skills. These include being professional, impartial, having confidence in your clinical skills and the recommendations you make.  You also need to be an excellent communicator, verbally and in your report writing skills.

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