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  • Andrea Dobrin

Traveling with a Newbie Expert (8): Learning the Financial ABC’s

Gosh guys…..sorry to make you wait two weeks. Life got a little in the way since the last time I put pen to paper. All has righted itself (hooray!) and I am now ready to fill everybody in on what you should be thinking of as you develop your fee schedule for expert witness work.

I suppose it is pretty obvious that you will want to build your fee schedule around the activities that you will perform. What might not be quite so obvious is that your fee schedule is going to find its way into many people’s hands, those that are involved in the case and those that might simply be interested in using you themselves. Take the time to make this document look professional, concise and comprehensive.

So, how can you achieve a fee schedule that is both concise and comprehensive? Well….what I am getting at is that you need to make sure to cover all of the bases, but at the same time don’t craft something that is so complicated people are put-off from hiring you. Or worse yet, that leaves them thinking that buried in your fees is some clause that will triple their expenses.

To help with the comprehensive part- below are the key items to cover, each of which should be presented as an hourly rate:

  • Record review and any other materials related to trial;

  • Research in support of the retaining party;

  • Trial preparation (this should include emailing and phone calls);

  • In-person work including, consultation and investigation assistance*;

  • Expert witness report preparation (or white papers, research summaries – basically any written documentation you are specifically asked to provide);

  • Appearance/testimony at depositions or trial* ;

  • Travel expenses including travel time**;

  • An untimely cancellation clause for a deposition or trial testimony (think about something like having gotten less than 48 hours notice);

  • A reminder statement of who is responsible for payment, and that your compensation is not contingent on the outcome (please remember this);

  • A statement stating when the retaining party can expect to be billed and what payment terms you are setting; and

  • A signature and date line.

Those of you with great eyesight probably noticed the tiny * at the end of two of the lines above. For these two items I recommend that you set a reasonable minimum number of hours, meaning set the hourly rate but with some reasonable minimum of your time. Trust me on this - in-person work can take a huge chunk out of your time. For example, you could be called to testify but may find yourself cooling your heels for a couple of hours before you are actually on the stand. This is a lot like going to see your doctor! Or the BMV!

There’s also a line that has been awarded two **! This one will take some thought on your part. If you have to drive a good distance or fly someplace to meet with the attorneys you’ll want something in there that gives you some compensation during travel. For me, anything I need to do that is in my home county is free of charge. Outside of that I bill at a much reduced rate for half the travel time needed. That’s the way we did it when I was consulting and it still seems pretty fair.

Something that I did not address myself, but that I have wrestled with is the cost of making copies. Look folks – I’m old school on some stuff. I can read most depositions on line but if I am asked to review 6 years worth of progress notes I head straight to my local Office Max. I have not charged for this, but just to give you an example, earlier this year one trip cost me nearly $700!! Youch! It paid off though – I was better able to organize the documents and I found some nuggets that had been buried pretty deep. This was a big, big help to the attorneys. End of the day – think about this and whether you want to add something or not.

Okay now that the big stuff is identified - here is my best general advice for overall success with your fee schedule.

  • Keep your fees on a single page and make it professional (no typos guys!);

  • Add your logo if you have developed one and add your contact information (this should be on every document you create); and

  • Create reasonable fees - if you are new at this I don’t care how many years of experience you have in your industry, set your fees lower until you have developed a name for yourself as an expert witness. You don’t have to give your services away (that comes later when you’re reading 20,000 documents), but you don’t want to have the payer thinking that for what you’re charging they could get a highly experienced expert.

That’s it for now my friends- I hope this was helpful! Next time we’ll talk a little about avoiding pitfalls – which I'll call “lessons from the trenches“.

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