Posted on


my forensic engineering start


“Learn how I got my forensic engineering start that has made my testimony creditable.”

By John D. Gaskell, Retired Consulting Engineer

Author of “The Complete Guide to FORENSIC ENGINEERING

Forensic engineering is defined by the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (NAFE) as “the application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly relate to, the jurisprudence system, inclusive of alternative dispute resolution.” These engineers serve as consultants to the legal profession and as expert witnesses in courts of law.


As with education, I kind of “stumbled” into consulting/forensic engineering. In my senior year at URI, I happened to have lunch with a classmate who told me of an interesting summer job that he had, working for a consulting engineer. I asked: “What is a consulting engineer”? He told me that the job entailed drafting for an electrical professional engineer, who provided consulting services to architects. This conversation lead to my forensic engineering start.

He further explained that architects hire engineers to draw system plans and write specifications for their buildings; including, (but not limited to), electrical, mechanical (heating, ventilating, air conditioning & plumbing), fire protection (sprinklers), structural, and civil. Also, sometimes very narrow specialties are required such as acoustical engineering. Electrical systems include: utilities serving the building (power, telephone, data, cable TV &  fire alarm); lighting; power distribution; fire alarm systems; telephone distribution; cable TV distribution; and any other electrical system that the particular building might require. Experience as a consulting engineer often leads to a forensic engineering start.

The consulting engineer is responsible for designing within the architect’s budget limitations; and coordinating with the requirements of utility companies and inspection authorities. At the end of the design phase the consultant prepares a specification document, detailing the electrical material requirements and system functions. During bidding he attends pre-bid meetings, clarifies electrical issues and prepares addenda for the architect to issue to inform bidders of changes in the requirements. After a contract is awarded, the consultant reviews/approves shop drawings detailing all equipment that the contractor proposes. During the construction phase he visits the job site to record progress and clarifies the contract documents. At the completion of the construction phase he prepares a “punch-list” detailing corrections to the work, if needed.

This accidental conversation set me on a path to becoming a consulting/forensic engineer. I sent a resume to each of the three electrical engineers listed in the local Yellow Pages and to several of the local architects. One of the architectural firms was utilizing an electrical engineer that was consulting to them on an “hourly-basis”. He was reviewing the plans prepared by one of the staff architects, and then preparing the specifications. This electrical engineer was approaching retirement, so they hired me to learn from him and succeed him as their “in-house” electrical engineer, upon his retirement.

Fortunately for me, this electrical engineer, John W. King, PE was one of the most knowledgeable and highly respected engineers in the State of Rhode Island. John started his career in the electrical industry teaching returning WW 2 veterans electricity at a vocational school. He then worked as an electrical inspector and when a local architect needed help with the electrical design of a complicated project, he called on John: thus starting his career as an electrical engineer. Later, when the state required licensing of engineers, he was granted PE Registration without an engineering degree and without an examination, because of his experience and reputation. He was even appointed by the Governor to serve on the Board of Registration of Professional Engineers from 1964 to 1975.

At some point, John opened up his own engineering office, providing services to many different architects & private clients (colleges, hospitals, building owners, etc.). Eventually, he became partners with a mechanical engineer.

When I introduced myself to Mr. King, he said: “Oh yes, my replacement”. I don’t remember my startled response, but we soon became good friends. It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s reply when he was presented as US Ambassador to France: “I am merely Mr. Franklin’s successor; no one could replace Mr. Franklin”.

I worked for the architectural firm, (while being trained by Mr. King), for about 1 ½ years. At that point John and his partner notified the firm that John no longer had the time to consult to them on an hourly basis. Eventually, it was agreed that John and his partner would consult to them on a fee basis (as is standard in the industry) and I became John’s assistant as an employee of John’s firm. When the partnership later broke up, John decided to retire. My wife and I invited John and his wife to dinner and convinced him to join me in a new partnership with me providing the capital.

My father co-signed for a small loan and we worked in John’s dining room for two years. In the meantime, I became a PE and when John turned 70 years old, his wife convinced him to retire, while I opened my own practice. John even gave me the drafting tables and other equipment. I called my company “Gaskell Associates Consulting Engineers” and John let me use “Formerly J. W. King Associates” in my Yellow Page advertisement.

Litigation consulting is interesting, challenging, and profitable. If what is involved interests you, I recommend adding “Forensic Engineering” to your practice as a consulting engineer.

Learn how to get your forensic engineering start with Jack’s new book: The “Complete Guide” to FORENSIC ENGINEERING to learn the details. Also, the largest chapter in his book: The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING covers the “highlights” of Forensic Engineering. Visit to find out more.

Learn how to be a forensic engineer. Learn how to be a forensic expert witness. How to be an engineering expert witness. How to obtain training as a forensic engineer. How to obtain training as an engineering expert witness.