If you’ve just been made redundant, it might be time to consider a career as an expert witness. Here are a few tips to get you started …

It will not have escaped anyone’s attention that the property and construction markets are in poor shape.

One of the most significant differences between this downturn and the last is the scale, scope and the speed at which redundancies have happened. The vertical nature of the cuts has resulted in many highly competent and experienced people being made redundant. Many of these professionals are now pondering their immediate future and, as tough times provide fertile conditions for disputes, the thoughts of many experienced jobless people have turned towards becoming an expert witness.

What makes a good expert?

Before making any attempt to become an expert witness, a period of honest self-appraisal is recommended. Not everyone will be suited to the role. Experience and expertise in your particular area may not necessary equip you to deliver expert testimony. However, the courts obviously prefer their experts to be experienced practitioners rather than the “hired gun” of the legal team that Hollywood films often portray.

It is necessary to have a deeply enquiring mind and the ability to carry out detailed forensic analysis of physical and documentary evidence. It is also essential that you are able to express your opinion with the clarity needed to assist the court in making its decisions.

A reasonably relaxed temperament, self-confidence and the ability to answer challenging questions accurately and concisely during aggressive cross-examination are other prerequisites for the role.

How do I become an expert?

In the main, anyone contemplating becoming an expert witness will probably already be an expert in their specialist field – if you are not up to speed with technical matters, your career as an expert is likely to be a short one. However, training is vital if you are to succeed in this role. The areas in which training is likely to be needed are report writing, oral testimony, cross-examination and court procedure.

if you react well in stressful situations it will help, but you will need training to deal with hostile cross-examination.

Like most property and construction professionals, you may have written many detailed reports in your career, but the requirements of part 35 of the Civil Procedure Rules, Codes of Practice and Guidance Notes, must be the basis of expert evidence. In order to meet these requirements, training is essential.

If you are not nervous when speaking in public then you are likely to communicate well in a courtroom, but you will need training in procedure and protocol. If you react well in stressful situations it will help in the presentation of your evidence, but you will need training to deal with hostile cross-examination.

Also consider training in mediation, as this is an increasingly popular method of conflict resolution in which experts are able to play a pivotal role.

Where can I get the training?

Providers of specialist training are, in my experience, excellent at imparting the knowledge needed to interpret properly lawyers’ instructions, prepare expert reports, deliver oral testimony and feel reasonably comfortable in court. However, they are not usually able to fill any gaps in your field of expertise.

Your own professional institution will be the first port of call for advice on what training is available, but organisations such as the Academy of Experts and Bond Solon Training deliver useful modules.

The life of an expert witness is demanding, but rewarding and fulfilling when you perform well. However, it is not for the shy, or faint-hearted, so my advice to would-be experts is to do the training and then decide if you wish to take matters further.

If you do decide to go ahead, it is likely to be worth the time and expense: this recession will not last forever and your training will assist your career in whatever you decide to do in the future.