One of the most engaging—and humorous—presentations from the recent ICAEW Valuation Community Annual Conference at Moorgate Place came from Augustus Ullstein QC. Ullstein has a wide ranging practice, including personal injury, clinical negligence, product liability, sports law, construction, insurance, professional negligence, and Common Law. He’s also been involved in a number of high-profile cases, and he’s worked closely with experts in all these areas.
Ullstein shared his practical experience with the attendees. How practical? One policy he suggests for all experts was gleaned from a mentor (perhaps from Winston Churchill, who is generally credited with the quote), who advised him to ‘never pass a bathroom’ if given the opportunity during a day in court.
Other gems from Ullstein on how to succeed, whether it’s your first time or you’ve served the courts as a valuation expert for dozens of years, include:
- Do not be a full-time professional expert. ‘You should actively be at the cold front face of your area of expertise. I once had a football case and the expert was asked when he last refereed a match. The answer was “the World Cup in 1962.” If you haven’t had any experience in the last couple of years, you won’t be able to answer sensibly.’
- When you embark upon your work, make sure you have all the information you need. ‘Don’t let your solicitors inveigle you into preparing a report when you’ve only seen a small part of the information. That way disaster lies, because you’ll inevitably see something later on that forces you to radically change your position, doing disservice to your clients as well.… Furthermore, if you write and explain why you need documents that you don’t have, you’ll further assist the courts.’
- Reports should be succinct and clear. ‘One of the first things a judge reads is the experts’ reports. If the judge gets to his gin and tonic an hour earlier on Sunday night, you’ll do better in court when you testify.’
- Make sure the opinion you share with the court is yours, and not the opinion of your assistant.
- Be happy with your testimony. ‘Your report is something with which you need to be 120% happy … but if you’re skating on thin ice, it’s like being on the dentist chair with a sore tooth, waiting for the pain to start.’
- Have someone else in your office peer review your report.
- Errors of fact can be overcome, but making a mistake of integrity will spread like wildfire. ‘You may not work in the field again.’
- If there are experts meetings, the lawyers should not be there. ‘Similarly you should not accept instructions or agendas from solicitors for these meetings.’
- The more experience you can get in witness box training, the better. Over 50% of the business valuers at the ICAEW event indicated they’ve testified as an expert recently.
- The most important person in the court is the judge or the arbitrator. Ullstein suggests rotating your chair carefully when you sit down so that you return naturally to face the judge as you give your testimony. ‘More cases settle because of really good expert reports than almost anything else,’ he said, and the judges know this. Most are looking to you for the knowledge about business and value they need to make the right decision within the law.
- Do listen to the question, and only answer the question, ‘as succinctly as you can.’
- If you’re asked to comment on a document, turn to it, read it, and then answer the question. ‘Testifying isn’t a test where you’re not allowed to look at the material. If you believe you know what’s in the document, you’re almost certain to misremember.’
- Don’t argue with counsel. ‘It’s not for you to comment on the relevance. Nor feel that you have to deny every proposition from the other side. It helps your position to concede where a concession is necessary.’
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