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Doing Forensic Work, I: Starting the Case


Journal of Psychiatric Practice®: March 2012 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 122–125
doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000413278.88219.c3
COLUMNS: Law and Psychiatry

The private forensic work discussed here is performed as an “expert” or “expert witness,” defined in law as a person who is allowed to offer opinions to a court. One should not be an expert in forensic matters that involve one’s own patients. Initial communication with the potential retaining entity (e.g., lawyer, court, agency, insurance company) should clarify the case, the lack of conflict of interest, one’s possible forensic role, and practicalities such as fees, scheduling, and the way in which the work will be performed. One should guard against being misused, or having one’s opinions misconstrued, in forensic matters, including being named as an expert witness without actually being retained (a “phantom expert”). Communicating orally with the retaining entity about progress and findings is important; written findings or opinions should be created or communicated only if the lawyer (or other retaining entity) requests them. Opinions should not be rendered without adequate review of complete and credible records and/or other sources, and even then caveats or disclaimers may be ethically or legally required. The forensic work routine almost always begins with record review, and may or may not include examining a litigant or other person. (Journal of Psychiatric Practice 2012;18:122–125).

William H. Reid, MD, MPH, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist and a past president of the American Academy of Psychi atry and the Law. His website, Psychiatry and Law Updates, is This column contains general information which should not be construed as applying to any specific patient, nor as any form of legal advice.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.