How much does your expert witness cost your case? What parts of their assistance are most costly – and which provide the greatest value for the cost?
Tracking expert witness expenses can provide a wealth of data about the effectiveness of your experts as each case progresses. However, this data can only help you if you track it. Here, we cover some key practices for tracking expert witness expenses, including an overview of software options available for more efficient tracking and analysis.
Clear communication is a core competency for lawyers, and it’s essential at every stage of working with an expert witness. Communication about expert witness-related fees and expenses is no exception.
A fee schedule can help potential experts understand how and how much they’re being paid for their assistance at each stage of the process. It can also help both you and the expert clarify any points at which you may need to deviate from the fee schedule. For instance, your expert may need considerably more time than average to conduct testing, or may require very little time to depose.
When the numbers are organized beforehand, coming to an agreement on expenses and payments is easier to complete before either your team or the expert expend energy on the work itself.
Retainer agreements set the terms of the expert witness’s work and relationship to the case. Even the most basic retainer agreement should contain a breakdown of expert fees and expenses, the specific rate or rates charged for various activities, what expenses may be reimbursed, and how the expert should submit documentation, including receipts for expenses and periodic billing statements.
As expert witnesses become more informed about their own role in the process and the standards for their retention and payment, they also become more exacting about the terms of retainer agreements. Clear communication can help reduce or eliminate misunderstandings based on assumptions the expert has formed from working with other attorneys or firms.
Increasingly, retainer agreements also provide for their own replenishment, or the opportunity for the attorney to “top up” the retainer once an expert reaches its limits. Here, it’s important to specify when the option to replenish is triggered, how the attorney will make the payment, and the approximate timeline for doing so.
Managing the Data
Expert witness costs decreased slightly, on average, in 2017. In many parts of the country, however, these costs remain high. According to the American Bar Association, in some cases, the right expert may cost more per hour than the attorneys themselves
In an effort to control costs, many law firms and legal departments have turned to tracking expert witness expense data. However, not all are using the most efficient tools to do so. Simply using a spreadsheet or similar tool, while flexible, can add dozens or hundreds of hours to an attorney’s or paralegal’s workload simply in data management.
Fortunately, better tools exist.
A wide range of legal billing software options exist, many of which offer mobile apps that connect directly to the desktop. For instance, iTimeKeep is a free app for both iOS and Android that links mobile devices with the desktop software – not only smartphones and tablets, but also smart watches and similar devices. It provides the option to track a wide range of expenses, including those related to expert witness testimony.
Clio continues to operate as the cornerstone of legal practice management in many firms. The platform not only allows firms to track billing and expenses, but also to manage calendars, track cases and documents, and send and receive payments directly through the system’s financial portal, Clio Payments. Lawyers can specify the accounts from which each payment is sent and to which each payment is deposited, improving the ability to ensure the payment requirements of an expert witness’s retainer agreement are met promptly.