Potential Hidden Costs of Working With Expert Witnesses

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on June 25, 2020

Potential Hidden Costs of Working With Expert Witnesses

Potential Hidden Costs of Working With Expert Witnesses

Typing “average expert witness fees” into a search engine provides a number of resources that estimate hourly fees for different types of experts and for experts in various areas of the country.

While these estimates are often based on regularly updated research, they may not accurately describe the full cost of hiring an expert witness. An expert’s hourly rate may not address a number of other costs the attorney will be expected to meet. When an expert is hired independently rather than through a trustworthy expert witness service, these hidden fees can be even more numerous, costly and unexpected.

Here are some of the most common costs that may increase the total bill for an expert witness:

Travel Fees

The right expert witness for a particular case may not be the expert who is closest to home. In some situations, the legal team may need the help of an expert who lives in another city, state, or country. In other situations, the expert may live or work locally but need to travel as part of developing their expert opinion – for instance, to visit the site of an accident, the place a key piece of evidence is stored, or to a specialized laboratory or library for analysis or research.

An expert witness typically expects to be compensated for travel they undertake as part of participating in a case. These fees may include reimbursement for mileage, cab fare, plane tickets, and similar expenses. Since travel uses time the expert could otherwise use in his or her line of work, many experts also expect their time to be compensated in addition to the actual costs of travel.

There are four generally accepted options for compensating expert witnesses for travel. These include paying the expert’s normal hourly rate, paying a discounted hourly rate, offering a fixed travel fee, or paying only travel costs.

Additional Review Time

When creating an initial agreement with an expert witness, the expert and attorney can often work together to estimate the amount of time required for the expert to perform the tasks requested. However, it is not always possible to predict precisely how much time the work will actually require.

When an issue is novel, unexpectedly complex, or compounded by other issues in the case, the expert may launch an investigation only to discover that the work will take a great deal more time than the initial agreement anticipated. As a result, it’s important to set a method for determining how additional review time will be calculated and compensated.

A closely-related issue to additional review time is that of minimum time. About one in three expert witnesses charge a minimum number of hours for deposition testimony, as well as a minimum for trial testimony.

The minimums chosen vary by expert, but they can create a gap between the work performed and the work compensated. For instance, an expert who charges a minimum of four hours for depositions but only takes two hours has been overpaid two hours from the lawyer’s perspective, while the same expert who takes eight hours may seek compensation for the extra four hours.

Fees Not Covered by the Expert’s Hourly Rate

Minimum fees for testimony are only one example of fees and costs that may not be covered by the expert’s hourly rate. For instance, an expert may expect that the costs of materials or equipment related to the case, like consumable laboratory goods or library printing fees, will be borne by the attorney or the attorney’s client.

Cancellation policies are also common among expert witnesses. While these policies vary as to their specifics, they generally allow the expert to retain all or a portion of a trial or deposition appearance fee if the trial or deposition is canceled within a specified time period before it occurs.

Not all expert witnesses expect these fees to be paid, however. Those that work with expert witness referral services, for instance, are more likely to have an agreement that incorporates these fees and costs into their overall hourly rate – reducing the amount of time and effort legal teams must spend tracking these “outside” expenses.

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