Governments, insurers and lawyers are often looking for construction experts who can weigh in where they’re needed. Darcy Wilson explains how to put your experience and qualifications up for consideration for these kinds of jobs.
If you’ve spent a good chunk of your life working (and learning) in construction or a related field, chances are that you’ve got a lot of runs on the board in terms of training, experience and qualifications – and a strong, natural understanding of all of the regulations, standards and practices that matter in that field.
If that is the case – even if you’re humble enough to have never thought of yourself in those terms – you’re possibly what most people would consider an ‘expert’.
As it happens, there’s a solid and constant demand for experts from construction and related fields – particularly for testimony and advice in insurance and legal matters. If you’re able to establish your credentials as an expert, there are excellent prospects for well-paid consultation work.
A marketplace for experts
Expert Experts is one service in particular that’s on the lookout for professionals with a strong track record in their field.
According to Bruce Smith, CEO of Expert Experts and former barrister, the company “acts as a marketplace – or ‘market maker’ – to help people who are looking for experts to use in claims management or litigation, to find people with the appropriate expertise who are interested in doing expert witness work.”
Experts for this kind of work can either provide occasional services on an ad-hoc basis, or – where the demand’s there – as a dedicated expert witness.
“We have different relationships with different experts, so it depends what the person wants”, Bruce explains. “Some people don’t want that much work. They’re happy to do bits of work from time to time, but other people are interested in actively looking for the work.
“If we’ve got a good expert who we know can do the work easily, then we’ll go to our contacts at the different insurers and law firms and actively promote them – but obviously that’s something we don’t do until we’ve worked with someone for a period of time, and we’re confident they can deliver because our reputation’s on the line,” says Bruce.
What kinds of people are in demand for expert witness work?
As you’d expect, legal and insurance cases require professional advice from expert witnesses across a broad variety of specialisations.
“We work across a whole range of areas”, Bruce tells us. “We have civil engineers, mechanical engineers, we’ve got metallurgists, as well as building inspectors, surveyors, residential and commercial builders – depends on the market”.
Expert Experts deals in hundreds of different specialisations that are in demand across construction-related fields, including things like Australian Standards Compliance, electroplating, subsidence engineering, acoustics and heritage issues. Outside of construction, areas of expertise span from everything from Aboriginal art to vulcanology.
Bruce also explains that there’s currently a demand for knowledgeable registered building inspectors and surveyors in particular.
Beyond the basics
Being a valuable expert for the purpose of providing expert testimony does involve more than just a depth of knowledge and experience. To be considered for expert testimonial work, you’ll also need to be the kind of person that’s up to that particular task as well.
“It’s a very particular thing to have not only someone who’s got the expertise, but who has a range of other written skills, oral skills and analytical skills,” Bruce says.
“[They need] to be able to take their knowledge about what they do as a builder, and then to look at what’s happened in a particular set of circumstances and apply a forensic approach, and also to do it in a way that would be acceptable to a court. That’s where we help people.”
A confident demeanour also helps, Bruce explains.
“The reality is that most cases settle. People get expert opinions, they look at them, they discuss them – but every so often someone may have to go to court, so they need to be able to articulate their opinion. Someone who gets tongue-tied easily isn’t going to be a good expert witness.”
How much can I make?
For most subject matter experts, this kind of expert testimonial work is commissioned on an ad-hoc basis, and is something they’ll do from time to time – but there are some people who make the bulk of their income working as professional ‘experts’.
As you’d expect, experts are paid very well for the advice they provide in legal and insurance matters. How much you’ll make from expert witness work over the long term depends on several things though, including:
– how much of a demand there is for your specific blend of qualifications and experience
– how well-developed your written, oral and analytical skills are, and
– how effectively you’ve demonstrated your aptitude as an expert witness.
Am I ‘expert’ enough?
What makes someone an expert (for the purposes of legal or insurance work, at least) is an adequate blend of three particular attributes: training, study and experience. For most people in fields related to building, it’s also expected that you’ll be registered or licensed in your field of expertise too.
As you’d imagine, experience is non-negotiable.
“Usually the courts will prefer someone who’s had a fair bit of time in the field. If you’ve only started practicing last year it’s going to be very difficult to show the court that they should give your opinion a lot of weight,” says Bruce.
In terms of required experience, you’ll probably need at least ten years in your field by which stage “you should be pretty confident you know what you’re talking about. Obviously a lot of the people who do it are people who’ve practiced for longer than that.”
“We do get a lot of people who may have had an entire career and are winding down – [people who are] quite happy to provide the benefit of their experience to a court, and to insurers and others.”
How can I get listed?
The first step is normally to send an email to Expert Experts – or to give them a call to discuss your prospects.
As you’d expect, there is a strict vetting process for prospective experts. Potential candidates are typically required to submit evidence of technical qualifications, samples of written work and some professional references – and will likely be interviewed if things progress from there.