An expert witness is a professional called into a court case to either give testimony or consult in connection with a specific area of knowledge. As with any professional, an expert witness is entitled to compensation for this testimony. Several factors affect the amount of money a professional expert witness charges. These considerations range from particular area of expertise, hourly or retainer rates, amount of experience, whether the witness is being used simply as a legal consultant or as a witness on the stand, and the amount of travel necessary to get to court.
Area of expertise can be the biggest factor determining what expert witness compensation will be. In general, the more technical the expertise, the more the expert charges for his or her time. For example, a witness testifying about acute cerebral trauma in auto accidents will likely charge higher fees than a witness speaking about the history of patent law regarding vacuum cleaners.
Witness payment usually comes in two forms and each affects the amount charged. Many witnesses ask for compensation based on an hourly rate for the time they are disposed during a deposition, trial, or consultation. Expert witness compensation based on a retainer does not focus on the amount of time an individual spends on the case; instead, the expert witness charges a flat fee for availability.
An experienced expert witness will generally charge a different fee than a relative newcomer. This factor in expert witness compensation involves witness credibility. An individual with several decades worth of expert witness experience will be more likely to be taken seriously by a judge or jury than a someone with less-impressive credentials.
The type of service offered also affects expert witness compensation. The most common type of service is appearing on the witness stand and answering questions under oath from prosecuting and defense attorneys regarding the expert's discipline or area of expertise. Witnesses can also be hired by lawyers simply to act as consultants during the pretrial phase and provide insight on their area of knowledge or review specific evidence. These services tend to have different pay scales.
Geography plays a large role in expert witness compensation. If a witness lives near the courthouse, for example, there may be little or no travel expense figured into the fee. If an expert must travel a long distance, this expense will be added into the final bill. Hotels and meals are also included in the amount of compensation.