Being an Expert Witness

We are delighted to be able to republish an interview with our Shipping Expert, Jeffrey Blum originally published on 20 September 2020 on the website of the Baltic Exchange Expert Witness Association of which Jeffrey is Chairman.

A conversation with Jeffrey Blum FICS FCIArb

The fourth generation of a shipping family, Jeffrey Blum is a well-known figure in maritime circles. He has worked as a shipbroker, futures broker, ship operator, charterer, claims consultant, expert witness, arbitrator and internationally renowned lecturer and has built up a wide range of expertise in a career in shipping which began in 1973.

How did you become an Expert Witness?

In 1983 I was asked to provide expert advice on a containership charter dispute. It grew from there when commercial and P&I club lawyers realised that I have worked in various sectors of shipping and since then have received appointments as an Expert Witness for arbitration and court cases.

Having been an arbitrator since 1994, I have listened to Expert Witnesses at hearings and seen their documentary statements, so have experienced this process from both angles.

Serving on the original Baltic Exchange Expert Witness Panel Committee approximately 10 years ago for its 3 years and again when it was revitalised in 2016, I was voted by my peers to be one of four on the Baltic Expert Witness Association’s Council, its governing body.

Is an eye for detail a key asset for an Expert Witness ?

Certainly in the area in which I am involved : people too often ignore the value of careful proofreading and often mistype numbers or omit or misspell a word, or even the interpretation of a word because it has been put in the wrong grammatical place. Having an eye for detail does make a difference in interpretation of clauses in charterparties and contracts, which is one reason why people appoint me.

What other skills are important?

An understanding of law and of the subject is important. Knowing what your own skills are and only concentrating on them is crucial. Do not promote yourself as an Expert Witness unless you consider yourself – and are considered by others – to be an expert in a particular subject.

Also knowing that you need to follow all the legal precepts is important. Albeit usually appointed by a particular party or by their lawyers, an Expert Witness must remember always to be bound to give an opinion only to the court or to the arbitral tribunal and not to the appointing party and certainly should not be influenced by that party, however persuasive they might be. Knowledge of the law for Expert Witnesses is therefore just as important as knowledge of specialist practices.

Conflicts of interest?

When invited to become an Expert Witness in a case, I need to be assured that neither party would object to my appointment, especially if I have worked for one of them: perception of others can frequently be different from one’s own feeling of independence: although I could certainly remain independent of a party on my CV, another party might object to my potential appointment, in which case I would have to decline it.

I also query whether I am the only Expert Witness being appointed or whether another is involved. If another EW’s opinion differs, we would need to confer: if we agree, the matter may no longer be an issue to be determined by a judge or an arbitral tribunal. However, if there is a difference of opinion or of expertise, we would both be called to present our view to the court or tribunal and an Expert Witness must be sufficiently robust and sure of his or her own expert knowledge to deliver an opinion with clarity, authority and independence.

Does being associated with the Baltic Exchange matter?

The Baltic Exchange shares its motto with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers and both have always had a very strong historical, physical, cultural and professional connection : ‘Our Word, Our Bond’ definitely still carries a lot of weight. If anybody around the world wants to look for an Expert Witness, the name ‘Baltic Exchange’ has a good reputation globally, to be upheld by all its members, including BEWA members.

The Baltic is of great importance for me : I have been a proud member since 1974 and my father was a member since 1950, so I always support its various professional activities.

My colleagues and I are keen to promote BEWA as the main place of choice for anyone involved in maritime disputes, such as P&I clubs, insurers, barristers, solicitors, charterers, operators and owners.

Challenges ahead?

When commercial belts need to be tightened, disputes rise.

Shipowners and charterers will be arguing much more because current economic times are difficult: they are already challenging a few thousand dollars, whereas there were less of such disputes in 2007/8, when the market was at an incredible high and when a few thousand dollars did not matter as much.

One of the main challenges is how best to help parties to resolve disputes, including the increasing use of virtual hearings ~ these bring many benefits (including saving travel time and costs) but also some telecommunication difficulties.

Another challenge is case management: many people find it is more tiring to concentrate on staring at a screen for several hours rather than being in a physical court or arbitration hearing room. Expert Witnesses and others involved in cases could maintain better focus with the assistance of e-documentation rather than having to wade through reams of folders.

BEWA provides answers to these and other challenges, offering a globally recognised name and standard of excellence.

Click here to view Jeffrey Blum’s full details

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