Related Sector: Expert Witness

Meet Helen Pearson, a qualified Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) since 1996. For the past 18 year she has been working solely as an independent SLT, predominantly with children and young people up to the age of 25 years. Alongside her clinical caseload she has 15 years of experience working as an expert witness.

Helen Pearson is a valued member of the Bond Solon Expert Witness community and currently enrolled on the Cardiff University Bond Solon Expert Witness Certificate (CUBS).

1.       How did you get into this field of work?

Being an expert witness was not an area of clinical practice I had considered until I was contacted by a family in desperate need of an SLT to assess, provide a report and attend a Special Educational Needs Tribunal for their 16-year-old son’s Appeal. After some clinical supervision and advice from colleagues, I found the whole process fascinating and rewarding. Since then, I’ve been working my way through the CUBS study days - I’ve completed the Excellence in Report Writing, the Courtroom Skills, the Discussions Between Experts and the Masterclass in Report Writing courses. I’ve also been taking on a steady increase in referrals.

2.       What does your typical day/week look like?

I have always maintained a caseload for therapy. Over time this has reduced to one day a week as my expert witness work has developed. I specialise in SEN Tribunals, and I have never been busier. There is a national shortage of SLTs and an increasingly high demand for expert witnesses. I often receive four or more enquiries/requests each week but try to limit my assessments to two per week (plus any court sessions on top of this). I’m based in the Southeast but travel all over the UK, with assessments taking anywhere between three and five hours (and that’s not including the report writing!). Around 20% of my cases actually end up in a hearing, which are all currently being held via video links.

3.       What is the most interesting matter that you have worked on?

It’s the variety of clients that I find most interesting: from a 2-year-old child with profound learning needs who is being denied access to essential therapy; to a 12-year-old with autism and severe mental health needs who is no longer able to access school-based learning; or a young adult with Down’s Syndrome who is being refused a residential college placement. Having the luxury of time to ‘drill down’ and gain an almost forensic understanding of a young person’s communication and interaction needs makes every case interesting.

4.       What are the highs and lows of the job?

The high is undoubtedly knowing that I am making a difference - working with some of the most vulnerable people in our society and ensuring their voice is heard and their needs are appropriately met is hugely rewarding. I enjoy working with some outstanding colleagues, lawyers, and barristers, and in court I embrace the cross-examination process. The low for me would be maintaining a work-life balance and trying to avoid too many late-night report writing sessions.

5.       What advice would you give to someone wanting to start out?

Definitely source an experienced colleague for regular clinical supervision. I would also advise joining the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists ‘clinical excellence’ group for SLTs working in the Medico-Legal field who run regular study days. Obviously, I’m going to recommend the Bond Solon training modules! In fairness, though – they are excellent. I would also encourage you to start small and be very selective with your first cases, stick to your clinical specialisms and accept that the report writing process will take you much, much longer than you anticipate at the start!

This article was first published on 20 April 2023

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