If there's nowhere to run when a client hires you to assist the court as an objective expert, there are certain considerations to bear in mind.
When your chairman approaches you saying an important client needs an expert witness in your field of work, my advice is to hide. I failed to do this two years ago and can now give you, the novice expert, some practical guidance on how to handle a similar situation.

We have 15 highly skilled and experienced planners in Cyril Sweett's specialist project planning and programme management section. These thoughts are from those of us who have been experts. An expert is appointed by a client to assist the court to understand issues relating to a specialist field of experience. If you work elsewhere for the client, you may not be able to be his expert because you may not be considered independent.

The expert is paid by a client, not to "talk-up" his case, but to provide independent, unbiased advice for the benefit of the court. However, you will be working with a legal team that has one thing on its agenda – to get the best result for its client. For the expert, remaining balanced and neutral is best for your client. No one should rush into court with a case that cannot stand up under cross-examination. Your independent advice must assist the client and legal team to make sound decisions about how to proceed with the case.

Even if the case does not get to court – and many do not – then the demands on your time can be extraordinary. You need to ask if your business can cope without you for three to six months, for instance. This is the length of time that you must be prepared to dedicate to a standard case.

My most recent case went on for two years. Not that I was full time for that period, but I was expected to be on instant standby for attendance at meetings, and as such I had to reject some new commissions.

A good expert needs to be active in the field of expertise and not just a "professional expert". I am fortunate in that I specialise in, and am involved in, the planning and programming of projects. Others may not be quite so lucky.

  • The expert is paid by a client to provide unbiased and independent professional advice
  • Identify pros and cons for your client. Do not give any false hopes

When it comes to knowledge of your subject, you really do have to be an expert. In my field, time is critical to all aspects of a project, which includes design development, planning and legal issues, procurement and contractual routes. Consequently, it is necessary to really understand how Network Critical Path Analysis is applied, so that any delay events can be investigated logically and communicated so they are fully understood by the legal team and the court.

I would recommend that you attend one of the excellent training courses run by organisations such as the Academy of Experts. They will help to guide you through what, to you, will be a new world of legal terms, procedures and protocol. However, before you have a chance to get training, you may need to provide an initial report to your legal team. If this is the situation, then the following will assist you to get started.

Review the pleadings, if they are prepared, and understand your brief in respect of them. If you are working for the plaintiff, you will have the burden of proof. This can be harder than defence, where you simply have to prove that the case is not plausible.

If you are not able to read in the time all the documents for your initial report, you should state clearly what you have and have not reviewed. Ensure your research notes are well referenced, as this will save you and your client hours of time.