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Are Experts ready to blacklist slow/non-paying Solicitors?
  • Nov 16, 2022
  • Latest News

Every year surveys on Expert Witness work constantly show slow payers  or non-payment for expert reports to be a major issue.

Expert witnesses by definition are experienced clinicians and are not business people.  We are not used to preparing contacts … even though we know from attending various seminars that this is what we must do.  I must be naïve and assume that those working in the legal field are all professional, honest and ethical.  However, sadly there are some ‘bad eggs” out there who seek out reports, agree to payment terms via email that they have no intention of keeping.

What is the answer?
Yes, I know I need to send out a contract, which are easily available via Bond Solon or JS Pubs, with the correct wording to add to my email to then create legally enforceable terms of business.  However, as a clinician trying to juggle ongoing clinical work, report writing and business administration, this is an extra burden and does not come naturally.

I enjoy working freelance outside the constraints of a large company specialising in care reports.  As such, I am more responsive to solicitors’ needs and can provide reports more quickly and at a reasonable cost without the overheads of a large company.  For my first four years as an expert witness, I did work for a large company and the main attraction was regular and prompt payment.  The care company will take the “hit” for slow or non-payers or more likely they have their own business legal department that provides watertight contracts and can chase up slow payers.

As a clinician/non business person, it feels very awkward to make those telephone calls to chase up, sometimes repeatedly the non-payment of fees.   It is also a dilemma as you want to create a good relationship with the law firm as future instructions, recommendations to other law professionals are dependent on having that good relationship.  How to be nice AND firm when trying to demand overdue fees?  However, once a firm has gone beyond acceptable limits, I know I will never undertake work for them again. I have my own personal blacklist, like probably every other expert witness has.

Like most if not all expert witnesses, I pride myself on providing a quality service. I probably spend more time in preparing  reports than I have actually quoted for, but this is to my benefit if I am ever summoned to court.  

However, the unpaid reports that have effectively been provided for free … are making experts slower at being able to respond those lovely, professional solicitors who would never dream of effectively getting deferred payment fees for free by not paying on time!

In addition to the large Care Companies e.g. Bush & Co, Somek, J. Webb etc, there are several medical agencies that act as an intermediary between the expert witness and the solicitors e.g. Premex, Speed medical, Premier etc.  I like working for these companies as they too are very professional and prompt payers.  I understand that they are a business and the solicitors pay a premium on top of my report fees.  I have often had solicitors ask if I will accept instructions via these companies and I am always happy to do so.

Maybe one solution to be able to provide reports to  olicitors who are known to be late payers is to ask if they will provide their instructions via the medical agencies?

Surely, it is a benefit to the legal field to have a wide range of expert witnesses that can provide a variety of services from large organisations to individuals providing expert reports alongside their clinical work?

However, if a small number of solicitors persist in their underhand ways of instructing expert witness without  any ethical obligation to follow the terms agreed via email, then eventually individual expert witnesses will withdraw their services and return to less frustrating, clinical work.  I think this would be a shame for the claimants, the legal professionals and clinicians but it is understandable, as a lot of very hard work goes into those reports.

Another solution would be to have an informal blacklist of those late or non-paying law firms!  
I am not suggesting that we publish the names of those law firms who are very slow or non-payers.  However much, I personally would welcome this move, I am aware that there would be legal and political ramifications.  However, is it time for an informal blacklist between experts?  We could exchange the names of the firms that we would never work for again privately at future conferences or via email.

I am more than happy at providing the details of the law firms, I would never again provide reports.  Feel free to email me for further information.

Although, perhaps after writing this article and exposing some of the less reputable law firms, I will be blacklisted myself!

I would like to think that by not spending time on reports that I will not be paid for, I can provide a better, quicker service to the upstanding, professional law firms that always pay on time.

I hope to continue working in the expert witness field and welcome further discourse on this issue.

I would also like to continue to be a trusting clinician but is this an old fashioned idea in the cut throat world of business?

Anna Cawdry
Senior Occupational Therapist/Expert Witness