2010 Conferences

New Regulations and New Approaches

14 April 2010

Sedgebrook Hall, Chapel Brampton, Northampton

Programme (PDF)

Session 1: Problems in Expert Practice

FEPs (Frequently Encountered Problems) are the SEW equivalent of FAQs. Using examples from the media, the Helpline, other enquiries to the SEW & other EW organisations, Richard Cory-Pearce highlights the most common and serious problems – foremost are difficulties arising from contract and CPR – and tells you how to prevent, avoid or resolve them.

Session 2: The Jackson Report

Despite its ominous title, Review of Civil Litigation Costs, the Jackson Report’s enlightened approach appears, unusually, to be free from predetermined conclusions! Encouragingly, it is not an exercise in cutting fees but a healthy approach to reducing waste. Prolixity of Expert evidence is picked out as an area needing improvement and Experts are to experience Hot Tubbing in a pilot study! A spokesman from the Civil Justice Council will discuss Sir Rupert’s recommendations.

Session 3: Moving into Better Areas

The more we listen to Experts bemoaning the absence of properly funded cases in their particular fields, the more we realize their need to be aware of the existence of better markets than criminal cases and legal aid. Medics, particularly, must learn that they are not permanently enslaved to MROs. Marketing Consultant Jenny Cotton and Directory and Register Guru Chris Pamplin combine to tell you how to find, penetrate and thrive in more attractive markets.

Session 4: Promoting Your Practice

Continuing the theme of improving and enlarging your area of work, International Engineering Consultant and Media Expert Tom Magner tells you how to enter overseas markets and how to develop the skills needed to get the best out of the media when promoting your practice.


Practice Makes Perfect

8 October 2010

Sedgebrook Hall, Chapel Brampton, Northampton

Programme (PDF)

What would you do if the party whom you had done your best to assist were, on losing in the litigation, to respond by suing you for damages? If you think it can’t happen because expert witnesses are immune to such actions, you would be right ... for now at least. But come January all that could well change. The Society Conference on October 8th is the place to be to find out all about the latest attack on expert witness immunity and how to protect yourself should this important safeguard be removed.

The latest Society Conference, as the programme shows, is a day designed to help you develop your expert witness practice in ways that are difficult to find through research but are handed on by those who have found by experience the best ways of achieving success. Several such experts from diverse areas of work will outline the more important problems that can arise, giving guidance on how to prevent them and, if they can’t be avoided, how to spot them coming and deal with them. I will come to topics such as the initial appointment, effective credit control, effective marketing, handling cross-examination, getting paid in criminal cases and expanding your forensic practice, but before we get there let’s return to the threat to immunity.

Witness immunity is a matter not many experts have had to address; as a result they have only a rudimentary idea of what it involves and are unaware of the real implications. In recent years experts have found themselves subjected to a continuing series of measures to regulate, control, constrain and otherwise hold them to account on many different fronts. What used to be embodied in the seven principles of the Ikerian Reefer case has now been expanded to volumes of copious and specific rules accompanied by detailed, sometimes complicated, practice directions and sets of guides, protocols and suchlike that are enough to wear down the strongest among us.

The latest threat is coming to a head in early January when the Supreme Court hears an appeal in a case that addresses the extent to which immunity from claims for damages applies to expert witnesses. If, as some think likely, immunity is swept away, experts would soon find themselves subject to claims for damage arising from their testimony – and don’t forget that it could arise from breach of a rule, direction, guide or protocol as well as from an error in the exercise of your expertise. In the current ‘compensation culture’, aided by conditional fee agreements, closer examination of the expert’s performance is predicted to become an automatic point of legal follow up and could result in lawsuits pursued by those who previously instructed you. As if that weren’t enough, consider the effect on the cost of professional indemnity for expert witness work.

Chris Pamplin, who has followed this topic for a considerable time, will present a potted history of the principle of witness immunity, bringing you up-to-date with the current situation and spelling out its implications. We anticipate that there will be many questions and some strong views on the subject. There are several ways in which experts as a body might approach this matter, which Chris will explain. In the open discussion that follows we shall be looking for guidance from you on which policy the Society should present on your behalf.

Cut your risk. Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court does sweep away immunity for experts, there is plenty that conscientious experts can do to minimise the risk of court censure or professional sanctions, to which they are already exposed. This is the focus of much of the rest of the day.

Attractive Presentation. First, we will examine various aspects of expert practice that tend to ensure an appointment is well founded and unlikely to lead to a flawed performance. Not least of these is the manner in which you present yourself – a combination of advertising and public relations that lies within the confines of the rules. Many experts miss an opportunity by waiting to respond to questions put by a potential instructor; these usually concentrate on the ‘how quick and how much?’ approach. Instead you can put forward the more important things that solicitors want to know, together with those that the rules will, sooner or later, require you to put into your evidence.

Useful Aids. Examples of how to make yourself look attractive as an expert without saying things that are untrue will be provided, plus examples of key wording in pre-instruction correspondence. Of course, any discussion of the appointment of experts would be incomplete without looking at the importance of what ought to be every expert’s suit of armour – a strong contract. Here’s where you can learn how to protect yourself simply and effectively without discouraging people from appointing you.

Records and Credit control. The importance of what John Brace has to say is all too often illustrated by the problems caused by ignoring his guidance. Good record keeping and effective credit control go very much hand in hand; the former provides the solid basis that allows the latter to be achieved with least work and cost. Of course, accountants like John spend much of their time going over the records of others and, as a result, have come to know what works best. These are techniques that are not easily found by individual research so it is well worth coming to listen and learn from a seasoned professional!

Effective Marketing. Having structured your practice, you still have to encourage solicitors to instruct you. The last ten years have seen a huge increase in the number of directories, agencies, web sites and so on that promise to get you seen in the right places; but how can you tell which ones do what it says on the tin and which don’t? Chris Pamplin, partner at JS Publications, the proprietor of the UK Register of Expert Witnesses, returns to give you a professional insight into this area, which is ordinarily an incomprehensible jungle to most of us.

Performance in Court. The next topic is how to cope with cross-examination. Frazer Imrie is very experienced in this matter having appeared in many courts across the world. He will explain how to deal with the wily old barrister in a clear and courteous way – since the minute you become discourteous, the barrister has won! One of the surest ways of getting embroiled in a suit for damages would be to collapse under cross-examination. Don’t miss Frazer’s guidance on how to cope with this stressful aspect of forensic practice.

Payment by Criminal Courts. In a civil case payment usually follows in a fairly straightforward (if slow) manner. If, on the other hand, you appear in the criminal courts, you will share the frustration and dissatisfaction expressed by many members about the difficulties and inconsistencies encountered when trying to get paid by the court. Regrettably, the Society has not yet cracked this one. But Eddie Josse, the Society Chairman, has been steering a relatively calm course through these treacherous waters for decades and is going to share some useful ploys that have worked well for him.

Expand Your Practice. To end the day, and to satisfy the imaginative and adventurous, Tom Magner is going to let you into the daunting worlds of the media and overseas expert markets. He will look at how to develop the skills that will enable you to benefit from media contact and what to avoid. Similarly, for those with the requisite ability and inclination, he will explain how to cross frontiers and return safely.