This site uses cookies.

The Generalist and the Specialist in Conference - Dr Mark Burgin

11/05/22. Dr. Mark Burgin BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP discusses the effects of power difference between experts and the sometimes paradoxical outcomes.

Lawyers prefer to instruct the most senior expert that they can but often funding only allows for a generalist who they believe will lose against the specialist.

Specialists do have advantages but it is a well kept secret that the Generalist will often have more relevant experience in the areas of the case.

Opinions on specialist issues are rarely controversial so most cases are decided on issues such as whose account is more likely or what legal test should be used.

The specialist is not likely to have experience in areas outside of their specialty and few have expertise in thinking like a generalist.

I will decide the case!

Specialists are more likely than Generalists to believe that it is the expert’s role to determine the facts of the case.

This belief makes them look less independent, that they are ignoring material facts and any range of opinion.

It can be difficult to persuade a specialist that they should look at the alternative points of view and they may need remind of their duty to the court.

Looking at all the evidence allows the production of a more reasoned and nuanced document that answers the court’s questions.

My Area of Expertise

The Specialist is more likely to find their areas of expertise limiting than a generalist as it rare that the generalist has not experience in an area.

Where neither expert has full expertise the Generalist is likely to have the advantage whilst staying within the limits of their expertise.

If there is a material question the experts should find the best answer but at the same time warn the court that another expert would have better expertise.

The court may choose to consider the Specialist and Generalist opinions but is likely to prefer a Generalist.

Thinking like a Generalist

Generalists are taught that if the first way does not work they should try a different approach so they have many alternatives to choose from.

They test many possible answers using all the evidence rather than try to find the single best answer based upon a limited number of facts.

This can appear to be a disadvantage in a joint expert conference because they will concede points that are not sustainable.

Where the specialist’s answer has a flaw the generalist expert can shine a light upon the specialist’s thinking even in an area of the specialist’s expertise.


Generalists and Specialists have different weaknesses so the lawyer should choose the right expert for the case even if that is Generalist.

The material issues are almost never solely within the Specialist’s area of expertise and a second Specialist will likely have the same blind spots.

A Generalist expert thinks about the case differently and can ensure that all the evidence is considered including what the specialist finds uncomfortable.

Generalist’s knowledge of the specialist area is usually sufficient to understand the points that the specialist is making and ask difficult questions.

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

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


Image ©

All information on this site was believed to be correct by the relevant authors at the time of writing. All content is for information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No liability is accepted by either the publisher or the author(s) for any errors or omissions (whether negligent or not) that it may contain. 

The opinions expressed in the articles are the authors' own, not those of Law Brief Publishing Ltd, and are not necessarily commensurate with general legal or medico-legal expert consensus of opinion and/or literature. Any medical content is not exhaustive but at a level for the non-medical reader to understand. 

Professional advice should always be obtained before applying any information to particular circumstances.

Excerpts from judgments and statutes are Crown copyright. Any Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of OPSI and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland under the Open Government Licence.