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30/07/20

Becoming

Becoming

Becoming

Mark Wheeler talks about why the journey is just as important when it comes to being an expert.

There is one question that I get asked more than any other. Simply summarised, it is “How do I get to become an expert?”. Each year, new hires ask this, website visitors ask this, social media enquiries ask this. Even some clients ask this.

I always respond by asking why they would want to do such a thing. For many, they see it as a big step in career development. Others believe that it will be highly financially rewarding, for many it is a mark of prestige that they want to gain. Nobody has ever said “...I want to work all the hours God sends in the run-up to a trial, under enormous pressure and stress, constantly dealing with queries from all sides, before being tested on my report by a QC who can cross-examine me in the witness box for days if he wants…”. If that ever happens, do I hire them, or have them committed?

It’s also a common misconception that being an expert is a career. I have always been troubled by this. It certainly is the case that many who work almost entirely on expert commissions have reached that stage, but it’s very important to have knowledge of current industry practice. Keeping in touch with developments can be hard, if you are no longer practising in your primary field of expertise. Working in a larger firm that allows project involvement is very helpful, as is active participation in industry organisations and professional bodies. The best expert quantity surveyor is one who, when asked what he does for a living says “I’m a quantity surveyor”, not “I’m an expert”.

I was recently reading Michelle Obama’s book, titled ‘Becoming’. The structure is interesting, divided not just into chapters, but sections; Becoming me, Becoming us, Becoming more. It struck me that when considering the process of becoming an expert, it is important not to ignore the journey that will have gone before.

Become qualified, Become a specialist, Become experienced, all must come first. So, the first step in even considering taking on an expert commission, is determining the level of expertise that you have in what subject matter and assessing if this is a suitable basis for becoming an expert witness.

When an applicant comes to us, wanting to join the team, we have a well-defined process for assessing their ability and suitability to be an expert. But the assessment does not start with the last report they wrote, it starts by looking back further. How long has this person been in the industry? What project experience do they have? How detailed and practical are they? Most people in the team have a real passion for their professional discipline, have reached the top of that career and are looking for something more challenging.

Having satisfied ourselves that they have become qualified and become specialists in their field, the next step is to ensure they have, or can, become experts. Training and mentoring are part of the process, and then there is a final assessment interview. Not everyone who applies passes; the current pass rate into Diales is around 45% of first-time applicants. One of the key requirements has to be understanding what you don’t know, and being open and accepting of it. Some struggle with this, feeling that they should be expert at everything. This is a dangerous attitude and won’t get someone in our team through to expert status.

The interview is important, because people can repeat the text book answers to questions about duty to the court, independence, etc., but real testing of those principles is achieved in mentoring and peer review, and a tough interview to make sure they really understand how the principles define our culture and make us the best expert team to turn to.

This final stage in becoming a Diales expert cannot be defined in terms of timescale, it cannot be short cut or accelerated. It’s not about the process. It’s about the outcome. Those that pass through the process get to work on some of the world's most complex and interesting projects and disputes. The journey is therefore well worth the effort. If you have already become a qualified specialist in your field, perhaps it’s time to contact us and become something more...

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