No time for lip service

I read with concern your article on expert witnesses and note the comments on the Law Society checking procedure.

As the person at the forefront of the checking procedure I am anxious you are aware of the intricacies and detail involved in this process.

All experts in the Law Society Directory of Expert Witnesses, and its back-up service, the Law Society Expert Witness Helpline, have supplied two satisfactory references from practising solicitors who have instructed them within the last three years.

The reference form asks the solicitor to rate from very good to very poor several aspects of the expert's experience and ability in providing expert witness services, including accuracy, understanding and analysis of the expert subject area, presentation and adherence to time scale.

Where the expert has presented evidence in court, the solicitor is asked to rate the expert's understanding of the court's requirements and the preparation, content and delivery of their evidence. Solicitors are asked whether they have received any adverse comment from the judge or others which gives them cause to doubt the expert's evidence. Finally the form asks whether the solicitor would use the expert again or recommend the expert to other solicitors.

During the course of conducting the checking procedure some 200 references came across my desk. These references had comments or marks which caused concern and warranted further investigation. In addition to consulting with colleagues, and on occasion the Law Society legal adviser's office, solicitors were contacted and asked to discuss the reference (in confidence). The result of these discussions (which often involved several telephone conversations and lengthy detective work) was that 9 per cent of applicants for the directory and Helpline were turned down.

Taking that extra step and contacting the solicitors caused several of them to comment on the thoroughness and honest nature of the procedure. It increased their confidence in purchasing and using a reference tool which they know did not hold experts who had gained entry through a procedure which simply paid lip service to the word checking.

The Law Society and FT Law & Tax (publishers of the directory) spent more than six months ensuring the checking procedure in place was worthwhile. The article on expert witnesses throws doubt on the validity of a procedure which has proved respectable and trusted by members of the profession.

Tracey McCarthy

Information Officer

The Law Society.