Our Podcast guest is Ben Parry-Smith, a leading lawyer in family law. He's well recognized in this profession and ranked by legal 500 as the next generation partner. Ben has been a partner at Payne Hicks Beach since 2018, 10 years after qualifying as a lawyer. He presented at the Bond Solon annual witness conference 2021.
Today’s discussion is aimed at establishing primarily how to strengthen that relationship between an expert witness and instructing party as much as possible to leveraging all of Ben's years of experiences practicing in matters, which often involve relationships falling apart.
One of the key parts that I've taken away from listening to him in the past is the dating process. Ben explains that this is the stage where the solicitors are reaching out to try and find an expert that's appropriate for whatever area it is they need expert assistance in. As an expert, a compelling up-to-date CV that sets out your experience is really important. A solicitor is far more likely to instruct an expert that's keen and efficient. He should be able to respond to the solicitor’s enquiry, they don't have any conflict of interest, the area of expertise is absolutely on point, can do the work properly within timescale, can attend court on the dates that are set out, and a good fee estimate.
Consider it as sort of like a service level. When you're going out there to obtain a quote for anything, you are subliminally making conclusions about the service that you're likely to get based on the quality and depth of interaction at that very early stage, almost like the dating process, where you try to make a lot of conclusions from the first or second date. It’s that first impression, putting your best foot forward and trying to make yourself appealing. If you can't respond to inquiries in a prompt manner, you're probably going to be in a situation where you're going to be delivering the report late and you're probably going to be unresponsive to a number of things. It's almost like a check in with yourself if you can't put yourself in a position, maybe because you are beyond capacity with other commitments. If this becomes part of your career, it has to be treated with that level of professionalism and time of day or week and not just squeezed in between all your other commitments. Ben adds that if you can't do it, respond quickly to the solicitor or perhaps recommend someone that has the capacity to do it, someone you trust.
I've noticed from working with lawyers outside of expert witness work that when I've asked, for example, for some expertise in Europe, and the solicitor that I would perhaps consider in the UK isn't available, they refer colleagues. It’s probably unlikely that there will be a referral fee but the goodwill that comes out of that type of communication resonates with you for a long time afterwards.
Ben says that it’s important that an expert is really responsive, who quickly gets back to the solicitor, and advises if they can't immediately do the work and provides the time when they can complete it. It's all about managing your clients expectations. That way of communicating quickly and setting expectations is really helpful.
From a personal perspective, when I look at the time between receiving instruction and looking deeper into the court suggested timelines, and all of the other parts of litigation that they're often months ahead of when you're delivering the report. So there's almost this self reflection of I must do everything instantly. Otherwise, I'm not really serving my instructing party.
I learned about the 10 steps to creating a successful relationship from Ben. We did not have the time to go through all 10 today but these are his top three.