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An Introduction to Expert Report Writing 2018 - Dr Mark Burgin

17/12/18. Dr. Mark Burgin BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP considers the generic skill of report writing from the point of view of an agency providing training to the new expert.

When an expert starts taking instructions they typically feel more comfortable using the same style of writing as they would in their professional life.

There is a parallel between the two types of reports as both are built upon the model of Rules, Purpose and Readability and professionals need to learn the differences.

The transition from professional witness to fact to expert witness of opinion can be assisted by using a simple model of the expert report to clarify what is required.

Teach these three parts separately to ensure that the principle behind them is understood and the professional does not write the wrong type of report.

New experts should work with an experienced mentor who can identify when the rules are breached, when the report is not fit for purpose or difficult to follow.

Legal Rules

Professional rules focus upon the actions, whether they have followed the professional guidelines and professional knowledge.

The expert’s rules (CPR) come from lawyers rather than their professional bodies and detail the way that the professional must behave rather than being based on their skills.

A professional’s concept of independence is subjective whereas the court requires the expert to prove that they are an independent expert.

The professional expects their opinion to be taken on trust and may feel annoyed that they must show that their working is logical and reasonable

Professionals can struggle with there being a range of opinion rather than a solution and having someone else decide the case can be frustrating.

Purpose of the report

The purpose of the professional expert report is to assist the court in areas that are within their expertise and are material to the case.

Ensuring that the report details all material issues can feel to the expert as mind reading until they understand how a case is decided by lawyers.

The agency can assist the new expert by helping them compose a list of the material questions and asking them to check whether the questions have been answered.

Where there are weaknesses the new expert learns best by considering what other evidence could be considered to answer the question and what expertise is required.

Experts should be encouraged to recognise their knowledge gaps and what steps they need to take so they can fill them if they are to fully satisfy the purpose of the report.

Readability

Making an expert report easily accessible for the court is a different task from writing a professional article as the layout allows the lawyer refer easily to correct section.

The key elements of a useful expert report are that there is a structure to allow navigation and each part can be read separately without losing meaning.

Technical language may be unavoidable but if split into small parts the whole report will remain readable to the lawyers as well as telling the story of the case.

Using pre-templated wording can be helpful but if overused can lead to reports that are full of general statements devoid of real meaning.

Experts can face serious consequences for instance using ambiguous language can be in contempt of court if the consequence is confusing the court and increasing costs.

Conclusions

Thinking like a lawyer takes practice and experience but the new expert is expected to follow rules, satisfy the purpose in a readable report from day one.

Professionals are used to making decisions and working on their own ‘independently’ but may not be aware that in the legal world these words have different meanings.

Experts find it difficult to recognise when for instance amending a report can lead to misleading the court or may not see the difference between facts and opinions.

Auditing medical reports is at worst an informal process superficial and carried out by the overworked chief medical officer at best is an independent professional report.

A MERA assessment should be requested on 1 percent of all reports but for new experts where practice makes permanent this should be at least 10%. (1)

Doctor Mark Burgin, BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP is on the General Practitioner Specialist Register.

Dr. Burgin can be contacted for audits on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 0845 331 3304 website drmarkburgin.co.uk

  1. Burgin 2018 Medical Expert Report Audit (MERA): Opening the Black Box

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