Expert witnesses are not advocates … or are they?

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Writing an expert report for the first time can be daunting. From interpreting a solicitor’s instructions to determining the appropriate tone, style, and form, experts have to juggle a number of considerations in order to produce an outstanding, useful report. In this guest post from legal reasoning and writing expert Narelle Bell, learn what makes a good expert report and best showcases your skills and knowledge as a specialist. ExpertsDirect offers regular training days to ensure that you are preparing the best possible expert report; stay tuned for our next training day in early 2017.

Whenever you write a report that gives your expert opinion backed up by a clear statement of the issues, the facts you relied on, the knowledge and experience you draw on and the reasons for your conclusions, you are being an advocate for your own expert opinion. You are seizing the chance to persuade the Court that your opinion is sound, logical and reasonable – and should be accepted.

A good advocate sets out the argument clearly and logically, keeps the audience engaged and attentive and leads them to the favoured conclusion. To achieve that persuasive logical clarity and be a good advocate for your own opinion, you have to break your opinion down into its component parts and reveal your reasoning to all your readers who are not experts in your field – especially the Court.  Here, the structure of your report is key.

The starting point for a persuasive report is to be clear about the issues or questions you are responding to.  Once you have those clear, you can use them to give your report its framework.  It’s fine to ask for clarification of the issues either directly from the solicitor or with the help of ExpertsDirect – in fact, it’s imperative.  Getting the issues straight at the beginning is vital.

Using those clearly identified issues to set the structure of your report, it can be useful and effective to phrase the issues as questions and use those questions as headings.  This helps readers to understand what you are doing and where you are taking them.  It keeps your readers with you – focused and attentive and curious to see how you will answer the questions posed.

In each section, under each issue based heading, you can set out the information relevant to that issue; the principles you are applying or the method you used; your analysis (i.e., the application of the principles or method to the information); and your answer to the question. That way, non-expert readers (like judges) can see exactly why you have formed the opinion you’ve formed – as if you’ve taken them by the hand and led them down the path of your expert reasoning. You have answered because to their inevitable question of why? and showcased your knowledge and skill.

To really drive it home, as well as writing a clear conclusion that briefly wraps it all up and confirms your opinion, you can write a concise executive summary that gives a snapshot of your report – as if you were telling a colleague about it in the lift or while walking to a meeting.  A good executive summary says who you are and what the report is about; gives your major findings and conclusions (i.e., your answers to the issues raised); the method you used or the principles you applied; and your overall conclusion. It’s a short, to the point synopsis – another chance to be persuasive.

And another chance to be an advocate … on behalf of your own opinion.

Your search for a winning expert stops here.