Past President, Dr Philip Greene, has kindly taken the time to write an article for our members explaining why you should consider working as an Expert Witness:
There are three important laws that we, who work in professional practice, do well to heed:
Murphy's First Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Murphy's Second Law: Nothing is as easy as it looks.
Murphy's Third Law: Everything takes longer than you think it will.
Murphy's First Law:
I first became attracted to the work of an Expert Witness thirty years or so ago, when I was doing OK and began to wonder what could go wrong. What if something happened in my life that stopped me from practicing my beloved profession? By this time, I had written few accident reports for lawyers, and some articles for Dental journals, a few tips booklets, and enjoyed the process of writing.
Then, to my dismay, one of my accident reports was challenged by an ‘expert’ instructed by the other party involved in the accident, and I found myself having to justify and defend my opinion and advise the patient’s solicitor about how to respond. It was scary – but I enjoyed it! I thought I could do more of this and started to investigate further. I soon realised something important: lawyers know a lot about the law - and that’s it! They don’t know a lot about anything else, so when an issue, dispute or complaint arises in any other field, they need someone who is experienced that field to advise them: an ‘Expert,’ and potentially, if the matter reaches a Courtroom, the expert becomes an Expert Witness.
Murphy’s Second Law: So what does an Expert Witness do?
An Expert advises the solicitor about their area of expertise by means of a formal report on the facts of the situation and their opinion on the situation that caused the dispute, and on the likely outcome and future developments. In our specialist field, a typical case could involve a surgical case that went wrong, a failure of implant-related treatment, or, more commonly, failure to diagnose periodontitis. An Expert is instructed by a solicitor and, ideally, provided with the information they need to evaluate the treatment that was, or wasn’t provided. Every case is different, and the dental records provide a basis for assessing the merits of the case. Nevertheless, it is surprising how experts can differ in their view of the same circumstances.
I find it fascinating how opinions can differ between Experts presented with the same information. This ultimately leads, in some cases, to a meeting, ordered by the Court, between experts on opposing sides, to discuss an agenda set by both solicitors, with the aim of narrowing the issues between them so that a settlement can be agreed that compensates the aggrieved party, and avoiding the stress and uncertainty of a Court hearing.
Murphy’s Third Law: Everything takes Longer
The wheels of the law turn somewhat slowly, despite periodic attempts to speed up the process. Many letters and emails are written, and reports amended and developed, conferences held, and fees generated! Dental Expert Witnesses can typically charge fees of the order of £150 - £250 per hour depending on their experience and ability to provide reports and opinions when required, so this work can provide an alternative and interesting way to use your knowledge and expertise, enhance your professional profile, and serve as a career enhancer or extender.
So, should I consider becoming an Expert?
If you’re asking yourself this question at this point, I would say this: there are not enough experts around at present, and some of those who are currently active are nearing retirement. Solicitors are finding it increasingly difficult to find the periodontal expertise they need. Some training is required to learn the workings of the law, how to run an Expert Witness Practice, how to behave in Court, and how to provide the advice that solicitors need. In practice, Court hearings are very rare, because matters are usually settled by agreement between the parties, sometimes (it happened to me) even at the Courtroom door!
I have had great satisfaction from helping to deliver justice when a patient feels badly treated by their dentist or when a dentist is wrongly accused. Many times, the patient is unjustified, and the dentist can be defended; equally a patient who has been poorly treated is entitled to compensation. The Expert Witness is always independent and enables justice to prevail.
Somebody’s got to do it! Why not you?
If you want to learn more about the work of an Expert Witness, contact any of the following organisations for more information:
- Expert Witness Institute: http://ewi.org.uk/
- The Academy of Experts: https://academyofexperts.org/
- Bond Solon Training: www.bondsolon.com
Or you could call me - I would also be happy to talk to you about working as an Expert Witness, if that would be helpful.