On the third anniversary of the ExpertsDirect Pro Bono Service, we reflect on the trends that have characterised our pro bono work and thank all lawyers and experts who have lent their valuable time and labour to the service. We believe in the importance of equal access to justice, and it is our hope that the service continues to grow in capability.
About the Service
ExpertsDirect was founded on the understanding that the provision of effective and reliable expert witness evidence can significantly affect the outcome of a case. We are an ultra-niche company whose specialised knowledge is sourcing pre-eminent expert witnesses for litigation.
After witnessing the powerful impact of our service in our commercial practice, we decided to extend our service to pro bono and community lawyers representing clients experiencing significant disadvantage.
After establishing a partnership with the Australian Pro Bono Centre, ExpertsDirect sourced more than 100 pro bono experts in diverse professional fields. The ExpertsDirect Pro Bono Service launched in November 2018 and since then has regularly provided pro bono clients with free, or low-cost, and highly qualified experts for their matters. The Australian Pro Bono Centre has been critical to the administration of the service, including in standardising the service’s means test.
Trends from the last 3 years
An overview of the first three years of ExpertsDirect Pro Bono shows some clear trends in the institutions and firms accessing our service as well the matters that most frequently require low-cost or gratis expert witnesses.
In 2021, 62% of enquiries we received came from community legal centres and not-for-profit organisations. The figure shows a continuation of the growth of enquiries from corporate pro bono initiatives, which only made up a fifth of all our pro bono queries in 2019.
Half of all enquiries this year sought the assistance of a psychiatric expert. This is a marked increase from the 29% of enquiries in 2020 and the 40% of enquiries in 2019 seeking a psychiatrist expert witness.
Enquiries this year, like those in previous years, overwhelming sought medical or psychiatric expert witness opinions. Almost all applications seeking such expert witness opinions were in relation to the condition and treatment of adults and children in state custody (prisons and immigration detention centres).
Requests for medical non-psychiatric expert witness opinions has remained diverse and included specialisations in oncology, obstetrics, gastroenterology, otolaryngology (ENT), orthopaedics and paediatrics. Most requests for psychiatric expert opinions relate to the effect of an aggravated physical injury or illness on the mental health of the client individual.
The Future of the Service
In the years to come, we hope to build lawyers’ and experts’ understandings of the demands of expert witness engagement and reporting in order to consolidate efficient case management practices. Our pro bono arm receives the highest rate of very urgent applications for expert witness opinions. The service therefore frequently relies on the good will of experts who are amenable to producing reports within very strict time frames with documents requiring additional administration or organisation.
These administrative short comings may have to do with the underfunded nature of pro bono work in Australia itself. It is our belief that improvements in this aspect of pro bono practice will benefit the quality of our service to pro bono clients, as well as encourage more participation in pro bono matters by both lawyers and expert witnesses.
Overall, ExpertsDirect is honoured to have been able to assist with the provision of expert witness services for pro bono matters. Admissible, clear, and well-reasoned expert reports have made significant impacts on numerous pro bono matters with which we have assisted. It is our hope that the service continues to grow so that we may continue to bridge some of the vast inequalities in access to justice.
Our pro bono service relies on the generosity of our volunteer experts, as well as the altruism of organisations focused on community welfare.
We would like to say a big thank you to all our experts who have worked on pro bono matters this year. Thank you also to the following organisations and firms who have brought pro bono matters to our service:
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (QLD) Ltd
Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Inc
Allen & Overy
CaxtonLegal Centre Inc
Everyday Justice (Mills Oakley)
Financial Rights Legal Centre
Gilbert + Tobin
Hall & Wilcox
Homeless Person’s Legal Service
HWL Ebsworth Lawyers
Ivy Law Group
Karim + Nicol Lawyers
King & Wood Mallesons
National Justice Project
North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)
Northern Community Legal Service Inc
PUBLIC INTEREST ADVOCACY CENTRE LTD
Russell Kennedy Lawyers
Tenants’ Union of NSW Co-op Ltd
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Wesley Community Legal Service
Wotton + Kearney
To request a pro bono expert witness, click here.
Read interviews with a pro bono expert and lawyer here.