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Looking into the Forensic Engineering World
3

Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

(OP)
Morning! After I received my PE license I shopped around different companies which included forensic engineering firms due to an ongoing interest in the industry. Note my background is in the construction, inspection and design of timber, concrete, and steel highway bridges in addition to their respective rehabilitation systems and temporary structures during construction.

I noticed that all of the forensic firms turned me away due to my lack of experience in forensic engineering when I inquired about their job openings.

When I look at most forensic engineering firms I only see jobs for Professional Engineers and did not see any entry level opportunities. My question is (for any forensic engineers or whomever) - how did you get experience in this field of work? Did anyone start on a similar path (as a designer) and have to transition to meet the demands of forensic engineering?

I think my negative is the fact I am a bridge engineer, even though I do perform a lot of inspection and design on bridges while writing reports / presenting my findings for both government agencies and private parties. Note I did residential construction with my uncle which made me decide to become a structural engineer in the first place and do work on my house but this obviously does not make the resume.

I did find a firm that wants to hire me as a consultant as a side job to do forensic investigation, I will start here for the time being but am still very interested in this line of work and am trying to position myself accordingly for the future. Ultimately, I would like to work independently as an engineer and assume forensic work will increase the probability of me doing so.

Thanks for any advice,

RSB

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

As with any specialty work, it takes years of experience to be a good candidate. Hopefully Ron, an experienced person in that line, may advise.

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

Quote (rsb)

I think my negative is the fact I am a bridge engineer

I suspect that you're right.

Quote (rsb)

I would like to work independently as an engineer and assume forensic work will increase the probability of me doing so.

I think that's a sound assumption.

Quote (rsb)

how did you get experience in this field of work?

I'm sort of a forensic engineering tourist. It's not my main thing but I do a few assignments each year and quite like them. The work is interesting and the fees are good and relatively easy to collect. I also very much enjoy delivering a product that is divorced from the mega-overhead of extensive drawing production. A nice report that I deliver myself suits me just fine. For smaller forensic outfits, I suspect that you'll just have to wait it out until you've got a resume that plausibly reads "expert". If you test the waters at a larger firm that also does other things (think Thornton Tomasetti properly loss division) you might find them more receptive to taking on junior folks. For now, the path that you're currently on sounds like pretty good strategery to me.

HELP! I'd like your help with a thread that I was forced to move to the business issues section where it will surely be seen by next to nobody that matters to me: http://www.eng-tips.com/viewthread.cfm?qid=456235

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

The big forensic firms get quite excited about academic qualifications and impressive sounding credentials of whatever sort. Chairman of the ASTM committee, PhD, etc, are good bc its about looking good in front of a jury.

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

In the sample size of exactly 1 person I know that became a forensic engineer, they started out doing one thing in a traditional role, then after gaining some years of experience, went into forensic engineering later.

Maybe this is related: I do know another individual who has gone from consulting engineer to expert engineering witness for a legal firm. He did that only for the money; it's apparently a big hassle.

It is a specialized field. There probably isn't a standard template that gets you in. What you're doing seems to be working.

No one believes the theory except the one who developed it. Everyone believes the experiment except the one who ran it.
STF

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

Quote (SparWeb)

He did that only for the money; it's apparently a big hassle.

Why is it a big hassle? The pro of forensics for me is solving some interesting puzzle. The con is dealing with people in their worst moments of life (like a major lawsuit) and sending them bill for it.

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

(OP)
If you don't mind me asking - what was that one thing that the person you are talking about was doing before he went into forensic engineering?

RSB

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

Forensic engineering is the science part of a lawsuit. Expert witness is the "people" part of the lawsuit. If all the jury has to determine which expert forensic engineer is more believable, they will go with credentials. If on the other hand, one expert talks like a technocrat and the other expert can relay the engineering concepts in a layman's fashion, the credentials tend to get tossed out.

As glass99 stated, solving the puzzle is always interesting and fun at times. Going into court and getting blank stares from the jury is not any fun. You love it when you see jurors acting like a light just came on in their head, then you know you have reached them.

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

(OP)
Ron - how did you get into forensic engineering in the beginning of your career? Would you say I am at least on a decent track to get into forensic engineering? Is there anything you can recommend to me to help my situation?

Thank you for your reply!

RSB

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

I never set out to be a forensic engineer. But if you examine any structure with a problem, you are doing forensics to some degree. I looked at some buildings for attorneys, wound up in court and did a better than average job of talking to the jury or answering questions in deposition. There is a big difference in designing a new structure from scratch and going to an existing structure with a problem. If the existing structure does not have any drawings you can review, it gets much harder. You can "read up" on forensic engineering as a good start but you also need to hone observation skills and communication skills. Those 2 take practice. Learning to "look in detail" is something you acquire with practice.

I am working a job now for any attorney now who was on the "other side" the last time we met. He liked the fact the jury was nodding their head when I was explaining what I perceived the cause of the problem was but were not doing the same when his expert was on the stand. One thing you can count on is that no one on the jury will be an engineer. So do not talk to them as if they are. It shows a weakness on your part, not their part.

As far as a path to take:
  • You have to know structural analysis, how materials act and be really good at connectivity. These are some of the engineering tools you need.
  • You need to look at projects that have a problem to begin working on forensics. That is how most of us get into it.
  • It helps to take a forensic course or something that gives you both training AND a credential. Credentials can help you but will never hurt you.
  • You need to begin now learning to relay engineer concepts in laymen terms. I have received a lot or help in this area off this forum. I have asked before for people to help describe something.
  • You need to learn what a deposition really is to an expert witness. Depositions are where the other side gets to see how formidable you are or how much of a pushover you will be.

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

(OP)
Ron,

Thanks again - currently I do a lot of rehab work on existing bridge structures that consist of timber, steel, concrete, masonry with some bridges in an emergency condition which require the inspection and repair. Additionally, I have produced technical reports that have been brought to court in the past by my client which have held up very well. This is what led me to this in the first place but only problem is I imagine that there is more work available in the building industry for forensic engineers rather than the bridge industry which I lack. I will work on this issue as long as I can until I can get into forensics.

Thanks everyone,

RSB

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

When I started in engineering I did structural and process design for package water and wastewater treatment plants. We designed them, built them, installed them and another part of the company operated them. It was great experience.

Then I worked for a large multi-office, highly regarded geotechnical and materials consulting firm. Got great experience in testing and consulting. That's where my migration to forensic engineering came in. It wasn't called forensic engineering in those days. It was simple failure investigation and testing. Occasionally that was related to a lawsuit, so over the years, I developed a reputation of being thorough and being able to present the issues in a rather simple manner. I also did some adjunct teaching and made a lot of presentations along the way.

Now about 70-80 percent of my work is construction and structural forensics. Developing a reputation for being accurate and unequivocal in your work is important. It doesn't matter who pays your bill...whether plaintiff or defense....the answer has to be the same. Even when your client has to hear something they don't want to hear, it actually helps them. Even if your client is at fault, you can help them because,particularly in construction, there is rarely a single cause of failures. It is often an accumulation of poor construction coordination or lack of supervision of multiple trades.

Academic credentials are sometimes important. Mine are not that impressive, but it has not seemed to impede me in any way. I have faced numerous PhD types but have not found that to be a big deal. Be firm, be fair, be clear and always, always be truthful.

I would suggest that you try to work for a geotechnical/construction materials engineering firm (not just a run of the mill testing lab) and gain some experience. The failure part will inevitably fall in your lap and as you develop more of a reputation, it will expand quickly if attorneys like your approach and demeanor.



Good luck.

A Great Place For Engineers to Help Engineers

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

Quote (Ron)

Be firm, be fair, be clear and always, always be truthful.

That single sentence speaks volumes. The only thing I would add to it is "confident". Any time demeanor or speech does not appear confident, you tend to lose all or part of the argument even if you are 100% correct.

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

Ron247....exactly! Confidence is extremely valuable in your presentation. Good point!

A Great Place For Engineers to Help Engineers

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World

Maybe being named Ron will help as well? Does the "R" is RSB stand for Ron? bigsmile

RE: Looking into the Forensic Engineering World


I doubt the name has much to do with it but I have thought about getting one of those white "Matlock" suits to see if that helps my appearance on the witness stand.

Going back to the PhD versus confidence theory. I had a termite case once and the other side was claiming the damage was not termites. If it is not termites, the other side gets off the hook completely. In my deposition, the following occurred.

Q: Do you know Mr. X who owns XYZ Pest Control?
A: I know who he is, but not personally.
Q: Suppose I told you we have Mr. X who has a PhD in entomology and he is sure this is not termite damage?
A: Okay, he thinks that. Fine
Q: What formal course did you take that taught you how to identify termite damage?
A: None. As a carpenter I repaired hundreds of termite damage structures. I know what it looks like.
Q: Since you have no formal education in this, would you disagree with Mr. X who has a PhD?
A: Absolutely
Q: You mean you would argue with someone with a PhD in Entomology?
A: No, but I will argue with anyone who claims that is not termite damage, so Mr X falls in the "anyone" category regardless of his education.

The attorney quizzes me at least 2 more times during all the deposition about whether I would argue with Mr. X with the PhD. I got so tired of this line of questioning, I told him this at the 3rd time.
A: Get 10,000 people with a PhD in Entomology who claim that is not termite damage and line them up on the street outside and I will personally argue with all 10,000 of them. That was the last time he asked me if I would argue or not during the deposition.

The case went to court, the never claimed it was not termite damage and they lost big time.





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