How much costs an expert witness: rates, retainers, billing and expenses
An expert witness can only be paid through a non-contingency (hourly) approach, with some rare and risky caveats. This being said, some experts may set a number of hours for the project, hence a fixed amount for their services.
One can expect hourly rates that average $100-200 per hour more than the fees charged by industry consultants, and therefore change from industry to industry. The only certainty in expert witness fees is that there are no rules. The hourly rates fluctuate based on the expert’s academic achievement, professional experience, years in industry or academia, experience as an expert witness and number of times he/she has given testimony at deposition. Most referral firms keep statistics on expert compensations.
As a general rule, academics charge more than industry practitioners, but this is not necessarily the case in all industries. Experts witnesses with extensive testimonial experience charge more than those just beginning their careers as an expert witness. One can expect hourly rates ranging from $200 to $1,000 per hour, or more. Experts are expensive, but as it is often for issues where experience is key, you get what you pay for. What is more expensive, an expensive attorney who wins his cases, or a cheaper attorney who loses his cases?
Expert witnesses that are retained through expert witness referral services will generally cost more per hour than those that are identified directly. The reason is simply that the referral firm applies a charge that marks up the expert’s hourly rate for their services either expressed as an additional amount per hour or percentage of the expert’s base fees.
Expert witnesses tend to charge their hourly fees on a portal-to-portal basis, much like the legal profession. The basic perspective is that an “hour is an hour,” meaning that there is a charge for time spent on your matter regardless of whether it is reviewing documents, meeting with attorneys or getting to and from a meeting. Some experts charge a differential for testimonial time. Expert generally expense travel and lodging costs without mark-up. Depositions and testimonies may be charged on a daily rate, rather than hourly.
To protect themselves against bad payers, expert witness contracts usually include a retainer amount, which may or may not be refundable. It is typically kept as a collateral for regular billing or evergreen (replenished regularly), and is offset against the last invoice, when the case terminates. Contractual agreements usually give the right to the expert to request further retainer should the workload increase or the attorney be late in payment. Expert used to working with an law firm may wave the retainer fee requirement. Regulators rarely pay retainers, as they are safe (but slow) payers.
In the financial industry, the standard hourly rate is $600-700. Your expert may provide a discount for retail clients. If you hire an attorney through some of the high-end legal consulting shops, the hourly rate may be $1,000 or more.