How much do Medical Expert Witnesses Earn? What can you charge?
This is the question I hear most often.
Unlike a forensic radiologist or cardiologist, only Psychiatrists and Psychologists can receive accredited training in the dedicated application of their healthcare specialty to law. They can become Board-Certified in the subspecialty.
Therefore, data-gathering in these fields is available where it is not in other areas of medicine.
In other medical specialties, industry standards, adjusted for expertise and experience, are the guide.
What does it mean to have Medical-Legal “Expertise and Experience”
- Medical experience: clinical
- Specialist training and credentials
- Blemish-free record
- Medical-legal experience as a consultant or discosed Expert Witness
- Testimony experience–at trial or deposition
- Reputation with attorneys for a solidly written report and jury-friendly delivery of opinions on the stand.
Complementary Article: Setting the Right Fee in Med-Legal Work – Data Dive. is helpful to any medical specialist who wants to build a practice as an expert witness; due to specialized training in forensics, psychiatry and psychology are a case study with tools anyone can use.
Why should I rely on your numbers?
Because I’ve spoken to hundreds of attorneys, read dozens (and dozens) of depos, spoken with dozens (and dozens) of doctors and trends are clear. Surgeons notwithstanding, fees are not much different between medical fields. Supply and demand can drive a fee higher if you are the go-to person about an unusual medical topic.
Numbers below are the mean (not the average). I explain later how I derive the information and factors that push the numbers into higher or lower outliers. These numbers reflect Forensic Psychiatrists primarily but I find they apply to multiple areas of medicine with adjustment for the Boards in Forensic application of Psychiatry.
Testimony = Deposition and/or Trial
- $450-500/hour MD/DO
- 1-3 years of experience. 6 Months post Board-Certification, reassess these fees in light of new experience.
- Training and Board-Certification in a single area of medicine.
- Testified fewer than 5 times.
- If you have unique training, or added qualifications, a higher rate for the first year of practice may be justified.
- 4 years post-Board Certification
- Testified more than 5 times (deposition and/or trial) but fewer than 10 times
- Are developing a solid reputation with a cohort of attorneys
- If you have testified more than 10 times, a rate of $550-650 may be appropriate. This warrants a conversation so I can best advise you if an increase is justified.
- Mid-career doctors (6-10 years) who meet all of the above plus
- Have testified more than 20 times (deposition and/or trial)
- Have significant respect among most attorneys with whom you have worked
- Top of your field in your area of specialty expertise
- Excellent reputation
- Ease during testimony
- Have testified many dozens of times with positive feedback: Jurors listened attentively and factored the Expert testimony into their decisions.
- Outside of Court: the Expert is respected for thorough and well-written reports of findings. This becomes relevant in settlement negotiations.
- Add $200/hour to rate for Testimony
- Testimony is always billed at a higher rate than the Expert’s base rate.
Can I extrapolate from a Salary?
Do not determine your fee by dividing a salary by anything.
Expert Witness work is strictly an hourly fee-for-services model. There is a good reason for this: you must be unbiased and objective.
Objectivity is the heart of serving justice and due process.
A salary implies a fixed annual compensation, i.e. whether you spend 10 hours on a forensic report or 3, you earn the same.
You spend 10 hours on expert work? You get paid for 10 hours. A different case requires 3 hours of your time? You get paid for 3 hours.
Don’t Confuse These Salaried Jobs With Expert Witness Fees.
- Worker’s Compensation Forensic Evaluators: Paneled Workers’ Compensation evaluators are paid an inflexible hourly fee for an expert. Just started? Done it for 20 years? Doesn’t matter. Testifying in the WC case? Not important. The fee is set.
- WC Treaters. Worker’s Compensation treatment is a different fish from forensic assessment. They are not the same. This article is not about salaries or fees payable to treaters.
- Corrections. Your medical work with incarcerated individuals can come up with med-legal application. E.g. someone in jail awaiting trial is treated by you. You are later asked to testify including at sentencing or, after time served you may be present at a Probation Hearing. Forensic Psychiatrists, forensic psychologists, GPs and other healthcare providers may work in the corrections system in a salaried capacity. They are not a privately retained expert witness.
- Hospitals and Private Clinicians. If you are a treater, then later asked to serve as an expert witness, you have a conflict of interest. If you serve as a privately-retained expert witness about someone not your patient, then you bill hourly. Your hospital job might be salaried but that salary is not relevant to your med-legal work.
Commanding Your Fee Starts with Engaging an Attorney Online, Tthen Handling a First Call
Getting an attorneys’ attention
- You’re easy to find online and among attorney networks.
- It’s easy to reach you (phone #, email)*
- Your knowledge is demonstrated online
- Your area of expertise is explained in the legal application.
- The quality of your reports is excellent. Accomplish this by getting feedback, mentorship, reading others’ reports and practice
- Times you’ve testified. If you haven’t been successful getting this experience, you might consider a lower fee when testimony is more likely (e.g. court-appointed assessments, Public Defenders, pro bono cases)
- How many attorneys know you. Network, network, network — with attorneys!
- The number of inquiries you receive from attorneys
*Surprisingly, attorneys report they often retain the first Expert who takes their call.
“Official” Data Isn’t Reliable
No legitimate survey has been carried out to report fees charged by forensic medical professionals in any specialty, including psychiatrists and psychologists.
I cross-reference among sources to arrive at fees reported.
Rates Can Be Determined Differently
I report my findings below based on:
- Legal documentation of fees–e.g. invoices produced during Discovery;
- First-hand reports–what doctors have told me personally
- Deduction and extrapolation from “hearsay” aka networking, speaking with colleagues, and cross-referencing what my clients hear from their colleagues in medical-legal fields.
Non-Physicians vs. Physicians: All testify.
Let’s take a closer look:
The lower range ($250-500) reflects, for example:
- PhD or PsyD Licensed Psychologist, (vs. an MD or DO who can charge more) without specialty expertise
- Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Specialist with Medical-Legal experience and specialist training
- LCSWs, Life Care Planners, Therapists (psychotherapy OR PT).
- Physician fresh out of residency, pre-Board-Certification, and without testimony experience
- MD or DO, or PhD with extensive specialized expertise (e.g. Threat Assessment, or Oncology Protocol)
- Multi-specialization, Boards
- Reputation among a community of attorneys
Determining Income: For Data Geeks
The internet is peppered with fees received by medical-legal physicians. In my source research, I found useless outdated Bureau of Labor Statistics and the results of 2 private surveys conducted by expert witness directories. The BLS numbers, from 3 years ago are cited by ziprecruiter and salary.com. A quick internet search won’t get you the real information.
I go into detail about the data and the reliability of sources in the article Setting a Fee and Data Dive: Case Examples from Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology. How to Determine Your Hourly Rate. I use Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology as an exemplar, but the results are consistent with my research in other areas of medicine.
The private survey respondent samples are small. In the Department of Labor data, the statistics are misleading because they identify general medical professions, but not medical-legal or forensic subspecialties.
Forensic Work is Not Full Time
Most importantly, in no research did I find if the annual income reflects full-time or part-time work. Nor did it break out “income” to reflect the division between forensic and clinical work. In other words, a doctor who spends 300 hours a year in their medical-legal practice and reports a total income that includes clinical work, there is no way to parse the information. Not helpful.
FYI, the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics data is often cited in the press about income for medical-legal Expert Witnesses, despite significant flaws. If you find articles designed to answer your questions about income in this field, check the sources.
I believe forensic physicians, in any specialization, do not make as much income from their forensic practice as they could. I mean more billable hours and larger cases. Obtaining cases is a function of digital and “real life” outreach to attorneys. This produces calls. Calls drive retention. Retention and scope of work drive hours. Big cases mean the hours are easier to bear: one “fact” set, one set of Claims, your focused, unbroken attention to a single case. It is less stressful work.
Don’t Undersell Your Competition. Whatever you decide to charge, don’t intentionally try to charge less than your colleagues just to get work.
Don’t Offer Discounts. Your services are not available on Groupon.
Charge less: Worthless? If you cut your rate because you want more work, it could make it easier for attorneys to assume your reduced rate is a reflection of inadequate qualifications.
What You Can Do Now
Keep Building on Your Experience and Knowledge Base.
- Pursue expertise in specialty interests.
- become a student and teacher
- write (for your website, publications, give webinars and interviews, present) about those specialty interests. There are many: PTSD in combat, Surgical Error, Hospital Billing Fraud, Boundary Violations Between Treater and Patient, Failure to Diagnose–I’ve seen hundreds of areas of specialization–and often there’s overlap for a given practitioner.
- What makes you tick is not a feature of another colleague in forensic work. Your unique knowledge is what makes you the right Expert for a particular case and makes another person the wrong Expert for that case.
- Get testimony experience. Pursue it aggressively. Cases that are likely to go to trial are of unique value to you.
- Cases that won’t go to trial will teach you more about your role in how the attorney negotiates settlements.
Bottom Line to your Bottom Line
Income is limited to how often you are retained and how many hours are needed for each case. Thus, income is driven by demand.
Demand is generated through action.