Experts benefit from reading legal practice handbooks

Headaches caused by obscure, poorly defined fields of practice

Recently, I was researching practice for the forensic investigation of a personal injury accident, and standards for evaluation of the results. The practice and standards were not so well defined and somewhat silent, respectively, – obscure investigative practice and not well established standards in eastern Canada, better in the U.S., in both respects, and better still in Europe.

Research a year and a half ago of industrial practices, as distinct from investigative practices, of a similar accident identified 11 different potential parties involved in design and construction of the component of the structure responsible for the accident.

These kinds of situations cause forensic engineers and experts – and counsel by extension, lots of headaches.

My recent research was identifying engineering literature and bringing it in by inter-library loan for review.  Engineers know a lot but we must sometimes research a lot – poorly defined fields of practice for sure.

Striking gold in an “engineering” handbook

One “engineering” handbook – the title wasn’t clear – turned out to be a legal practice handbook on this particular type of accident.  What the heck, I thought, I’ll look through it. Imagine my surprise when I saw the handbook identifying and discussing the technical issues in these types of accidents.  The discussion was from a legal point of view but the perspective was very informative to an engineer.

The legal handbook was dated – 1983 to be exact, but at least I had a heads-up on a different way to view these technical issues.  And a better feel on how to explain the investigative findings on these issues to the judicial system and counsel.

More gold

I checked a quite extensive bibliography in a very comprehensive, 2nd edition, 2010 engineering handbook that I’m reviewing on this type of accident.  I was delighted to see a well recommended reference – by an engineer, to a more recent legal handbook on the subject – by an author qualified as both a lawyer and an engineer.  I checked and the handbook was available, and better still, in a revised and updated 8.5 by 11 inch, 613 page edition, to July, 2012 – quite an up-to-date tome.

I’m now reviewing this legal material in connection with my cases.  Even the 1983 handbook because the engineer in me saw not so much change in the basic relevant technical issues. This type of accident is still a somewhat obscure field of study and, as a result, a difficult accident to investigate, but at least I’ve got comprehensive and up-to-date literature on another way of looking at the problem.

What’s the take-away?

So, what’s the take-away?  For forensic experts, and counsel too, check out the legal practice handbooks on the engineering failure or personal injury accident you’re investigating, particularly handbooks on poorly defined fields.  Look at the perspective the legal profession has on the technical issues.  To some extent, you’ll know the obscure fields by the dearth of information on practice and standards.

Counsel too

I include “counsel too” because – with all due respect, I sense in my work that some of you have so many files open – I’ve heard “dozens”, “hundreds”, depending on the lawyer I was chatting with, that it surely precludes taking the time to check the handbooks for the relevant technical issues in a case.

If your expert doesn`t know about this excellent resource – your legal practice handbooks, like I didn’t until recently, tell him and bring him up to speed.  He’ll benefit and you will too by his more informed investigation..

A bonus in checking your legal handbooks – you’ll gain some appreciation, and not be surprised, at the lengthy forensic investigation an expert must sometimes do, particularly in the obscure, poorly defined fields of practice.

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