Setting Your Expert Witness Fees: 5 Factors to Consider

One of the first questions most professionals ask when they begin breaking into expert witness work is, ‘What fees should I charge?’

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

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— Updated on September 28, 2022

Setting Your Expert Witness Fees: 5 Factors to Consider

Determining what your expertise is worth in the expert witness market is a mix of art and science. Let’s look at some factors to consider as you develop a fee schedule.

1) Experience, Experience, Experience

Your industry experience will be a big factor in your fees. More experience means you’ve seen the good, bad and ugly in your arena. It demonstrates to the attorney, judge, and jury that you’re able to share insights on the case.

If you’re a relatively new labor and delivery nurse, for example, you probably won’t command the same fees as a nurse with 20+ years of obstetrical experience. Objective opinions on standards of care and acute situations draw from a large pool of direct experiences.

2) Your Curriculum Vitae

Being an expert witness is largely about sharing your knowledge and specialized expertise. As such, your education and certifications figure prominently into the expert fees you can charge. Your level of educational achievement demonstrates your depth of subject matter knowledge. Generally speaking, expert witnesses with a specialized Ph.D. or master’s degree command higher fees. In certain professions, like construction, however, decades of hands-on experience are adequate substitutes for a terminal degree.

Professional certifications and board certifications from professional associations also influence expert witness fees. And, of course, your day job and primary career will influence your fees as well.

Make sure your basic licenses to practice in your field are current. You will need those to establish your credibility as a specialist and justify related fees. If you are a construction expert witness, for example, having active licenses and certifications in any specialties with the American Society of Civil Engineers can increase your anticipated fees. The same concept applies to experts across specialties.

3) The Scope of the Expert Witness Work

Expert witnesses charge different fees for different types of expert witness services. You’ll want to segment the types of services you provide and itemize the fees you charge for each one. Common expert witness services include:

  • Records review
  • Records identification assistance during discovery
  • Consulting and advising lawyers on specialty subject matters
  • Deposition preparations and participation
  • Trial preparation and testimony
  • Conference calls and other meetings with lawyers

Your rates for these and other expert services types can range depending on a variety of factors. These can include the time commitment, any research or writing involved, and more.

 

4) The Demand for Your Specialty

As you set your prices, you’ll want to consider how much demand there is for your expertise. How common are your skillset, background, and experience? How often are litigators pursuing cases that require expert witnesses in your field? The demand for your specialty will impact the fees you can charge as a supplier. Remember your economics 101: the more unique and scarce the supply is the more the market will pay for it.

For example, there’s no shortage of doctors who can testify on a broken arm sustained by an adult in a slip and fall case. But a smaller group of medical experts is equipped to testify on the brain damage sustained by a 7-year-old girl who hit her head when she tripped on a dolly in a grocery store aisle. Such a case calls for a highly qualified pediatric neuroscience expert witness. A pediatric neuroscientist could assess the injury’s impact on the child’s brain development and the chance of long-term recovery. This specialist could likely command higher fees given the specifics of the case.

If you are an expert in more common litigation subjects like accident reconstruction, for example, your fees may not be as high as a specialized medical expert. But you may have a steadier stream of business.

As you dig into designing your fee structure as an expert witness, understanding the going rate in your industry is a good place to start. Expert Institute’s Fee Calculator provides average expert witness rates for a large set of industries. You’ll find going rates for review, deposition and court services by industry in all U.S. states.

5) Your Reputation as an Industry Leader

While many expert witnesses don’t consciously think about their reputation within their industry, your reputation can also impact your fees.

How well published you are? If you have published recent articles or studies on your subject matter you are developing your brand. Same goes for speaking at conferences or teaching courses. These are indicators that you are sought after for your expertise.

If you are considered a thought leader in your specialty, even better. You may be able to justify higher fees if you’re pioneering current thinking in your specialty. As an added bonus, prospective clients can find you from reading one of your articles.

It’s also important to consider your experience and reputation as an expert witness. Expert witnesses who have racked up a lot of testifying experience are usually very sought after. This is because they understand the courtroom environment and know how to effectively communicate to juries. Experts who have a reputation for knowing their stuff and an ability to keep their composure during cross examination can frequently charge higher rates over time.

Additional Tips for Setting Your Expert Witness Fees

There are a few basics to incorporate into your pricing for expert witness services.

Retainer Agreements

Expert witness retainer agreements are especially helpful for larger, complex cases that require a lot of your time upfront. If you’re helping a legal team understand the nuances of an issue or create a timeline of events, your initial investment will likely warrant a retainer fee.

Rush Fees

Don’t hesitate to charge premium rates for rush jobs. If a lawyer waited too long to hire you and demands an exorbitant amount of your time to get on top of a case, you are well within norms to charge a rush fee. The opportunity costs of working on rushed jobs—i.e. passing up on new business or delaying work on another—merit surcharges.

Cancellation Fees

Many experts also don’t think to include cancellation fees in their contracts. As an expert, your time is money. If you sink weeks or months of time into a case and your contract is cancelled for whatever reason, you’ll want to get paid for the time you invested and the lost opportunity. This is the role of cancellation fees. Make sure your contract includes a clause for such fees.

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