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Traveling with a Newbie Expert (7) or How Much is That Doggie in the Window?

As I promised last week, today we are going to take a look at one of the most critical aspects of the expert witness business- how much do I charge? While there are some helpful hints online (Google people!), much depends on the following factors:


· What industry you represent as an expert

· Where you are located (think New York verses Zanesville, Ohio)

· The level of competition (there are a lot of doctors but there are not many neurosurgeons!)


I think all of us can understand that a neurosurgeon is going to have a much higher hourly rate than someone like myself, who focuses on social services. It’s logical, right? So naturally (and logically) medical doctors tend to be the big winners in the field, commanding around $500/hour on the low end and going up, up, up from there. (It’s also important to note that the more popular an expert is, the greater their reputation and subsequently the higher their fee - just like high school!!). When an insurance company is staring at a medical malpractice award that could reach in the millions, the price of a top shelf expert probably seems like money well spent.


And speaking of insurance companies, this might be a good time to talk about who is paying. The bottom line is each party pays for his/her own experts. Sounds simple, right? Well, not so much.


The work that I have taken on over the last few years has always been on the defense side of the table. Typically either an organization or one of their employees (OR BOTH!) is being sued and so my fees have been covered by the organization’s insurance company. The insurance company is also responsible for approving my contract and my fees. And so, while my contact is always the attorney, and it is the attorney who reviews/approves my charges, the check will be written by the insurance company.


As of yet I have not contracted for any cases on a Plaintiff’s behalf. This is not to say that I would never do this work, it is just that my background as a consultant and an executive have given me both experience and a strong preference for organizational defense work. That said I believe if there is no insurance company involved it is the hiring attorney who is responsible for paying the expert witness fees….unless they do not win ….in which case it might fall on the Plaintiff (the person suing) to pay any expert fees…..ouch.


Okay! Now that we know WHO is going to pay us, let’s go back to talking about what is a reasonable charge for services. This is the place where you need to do your own research, based on your particular industry. If I can point you in a particular direction I suggest that you check out the Expert Institute who publishes an Expert Witness Fee Calculator with data gathered from thousands of expert engagements across all (or nearly all) specialties. In their report they have identified the average national fees for case reviews, depositions and courtroom testimony. The Expert Institute also breaks down those specialties that command the highest fees as well as those that are currently on the rise.


According to SEAK, the median hourly rate for a medical expert to conduct a file review is $350/hour. This fee is 43% higher than what a non-medical expert charges to conduct a file review (time for a challenging math quiz…….yup, about $200/hour). The median testimony fee for medical experts is $500/hour while the median testimony for the rest of us average folks is $275/hour.


These resources should be good places for you eager newbie experts to start your research. Next week we will focus on exactly what services are to be charged… like lunch! Trips to Vegas! Nah......just a pipe dream.

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