I get quite a few questions about how to develop into forensic engineering so I am starting this thread to answer from my perspective and to get other experience engineers to offer their experiences, opinions or both.
First, forensic engineering is an even broader discipline/subset of engineering than Civil Engineering, the historically broadest discipline of engineering. It can be a subset of any discipline and often crosses more than one discipline. As an example, a structural failure of a steel structure might involve materials engineering, welding engineering and corrosion engineering…all in the same investigation.
Forensic engineers get engaged by a variety of clients; however, the most common client is an attorney looking for someone to support their case, whether as a plaintiff making a claim against someone or in defense of a claim. A forensic engineer must understand the ethics of an engagement and not allow their opinions to be skewed by the position of their client. A forensic engineer can help either the plaintiff or the defendant by being clear, straightforward and objective in their opinions. I have been involved in cases where I was asked to investigate something and my opinion was adverse to the direction the client needed to go for either a claim or in defense of a claim. In those cases, we simply parted ways.
In my experience, my forensic involvement came many years ago as a result of my involvement in testing construction materials. Over about a 20 year span, my reputation expanded in that arena and my experience with testifying grew. All of my forensic work is a result of referral. We do no marketing of these services, but each time you are in a deposition or trial you get exposed to numerous attorneys (who might become clients if they like your approach and demeanor).
Delving into forensic work requires a lot of experience to do it well and to maintain a reputation of having reliable opinions based upon factual findings in an investigation. Keep in mind that two different forensic engineers, given the same data set, can have two different opinions as to causation or result (the old joke is if you ask 4 engineers their opinion on an issue you’ll get at least 5 opinions). Forensic engineers/engineering experts are supposed to be objective and should not be simply an advocate for their client’s position. Leave the advocacy to the attorneys. They don’t have the same ethical constraints (I’m not implying that attorneys are unethical it’s just that their professional rules are different than ours. Most attorneys I have worked with are highly ethical and somewhat fearful of an ethics complaint against them with their respective Bar Associations).
I have been fortunate to have been involved in so many different projects covering a large variety of issues over the last 40+ years, I can draw on those experiences to develop a forensic investigation approach and develop probable causes of failures based upon facts and past observations.
- You need lots of experience… in engineering, reporting and presentation
- Gray hair helps! …there is a tendency to view experienced engineers as having more credibility than younger engineers. This is a misplaced tendency; however, it is common.
- Be thorough in your investigation and write your reports keeping in mind that someone who disagrees with you will be reading each sentence in an effort to discredit you, disagree with your conclusions or obfuscate the issue to the point that no typical person would understand it.
These are a few of my thoughts. Those of you who do this or have experience in it, please don’t hesitate to offer your opinions/thoughts/experiences or warnings. All are welcome.