What Do Expert Witnesses Charge?
For all of the reasons we've discussed, these experts are generally expensive to retain. Expert witnesses can charge whatever the market will bear for someone with their field of expertise. A typical business resumption planner with the requisite skills we've described for an expert witness may testify for up to $300 per hour, whereas a nationally known figure may command an hourly fee of $1,000 or more.
Interestingly, how well known an individual is may not always be the most critical factor. In fact, some studies have suggested that jurors are actually more likely to trust experts who testify infrequently and non-professionally, particularly as opposed to "professional witnesses," for example, who are employed full-time in a large corporation. Consider the following exchange:
Q: What is your professional background and the purpose for your testimony?
A: My name is William Jones. I have been employed by The Big Electric Company as a systems engineer since 1986. The purpose of my testimony is to refute the testimony of Jane Smith and her claims of environmental contamination against The Big Electric Company.
Can you see the obvious problem? The jury assumes that this expert will not "bite the hand that feeds him." This assumption automatically makes him less credible.
Many large companies actually own standalone "professional services" firms. A suit filed against AT&T, for example, as a general rule is taken up by a company called AT&T Services Corporation. AT&T Services Corporation actually sends employees (even non-lawyers) to special schools to learn how to be compelling witnesses in disputes and litigation.
A standalone "services" company presumably insulates its parent company from many kinds of litigationand, to some extent, from investigations of oversight bodies and regulatory agencies. Of course, AT&T isn't the only corporation that employs services corporations, but it has refined the concept to an art form with regard to fending off litigation and other unwanted scrutiny.
For all these reasons, if you're looking for an expert and you work for a large company (particularly one that may be unpopular, such as a utility, hazardous waste company, taxing authority, etc.), you should probably consider an outside expert witness. Talk to your lawyer.
In the final analysis, fees should really be of secondary concern when selecting an expert witness. Hiring an expert probably wouldn't even be considered if the importance and value of the case didn't far outweigh the expert's fees. You also don't want to send high-priced legal counsel into a contentious case naked and unprepared. With this in mind, make sure that your expert has the ability to communicate with lawyers.
As we said earlier, we're not lawyers, but rather management consultants. A good consultant communicates in a manner that's appropriate for his or her audience. For instance, if we're communicating with systems programmers, we use flowcharts, because that's how programmers are accustomed to working. If we're working with executives, we use PowerPoint slideshows or GANTT charts. When we communicate with lawyers, we draft (but don't file) pleading documents, which make it easier for lawyers to understand highly technical topics. Because the attorneys get to see the arguments in a form closer to what the judge will see, it helps them to better compute their chances of success. By styling the technical issue as a pleading, we "dumb it down," explain it better, and communicate it betterthe critical skills we've suggested to you in this series!
Okay, so who pays this expert? Some state statutes require or allow the defeated defendant to pay the plaintiff's expert's fees. That's good for you, although obviously you have to win, and until that time you'll probably have to pay the expert up front. After a successful conclusion to the case, your attorney will make the appropriate filings with the court to collect reimbursement. Talk to your attorney. In addition, depending upon whether the case is in federal or state court, other rules guide the payment of certain expert fees.