Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant
Nationwide

Email go@forensicexpertpro.com or Call (415) 302-9589

What do you want to know?

Can I be an Expert Witness if I mostly treat patients?

Of course!

In fact, you are considered a more valuable expert witness when it is clear you practice what you claim to know.  Attorneys prefer an expert witness who can testify about what they experience in their day-to-day practice treating clients/patients.  By “client” I mean a person you are treating.

What credentials are needed to be a medical-legal Expert Witness?

In short: Board-Certification in your medical specialty and all that precedes it and a medical license.

If the case requires unique expertise, then you will need to have that expertise and be able to defend any challenges you do not.  For example, a case involves the use of a medical device. If you have never used that device and your practice does not bring you into contact with patients with the device, you may be disqualified from testimony.

The question is not what excludes you but what includes you.

Every doctor knows something about their field and some are particularly knowledgeable about a corner of it.

If a lawsuit involves the area of your expertise, it is essential you communicate it to attorneys–so they know! Whether you write for the Journal of the American Bar Association or your website, it should be possible for an attorney with that case to determine it is something in your wheelhouse.

Nice, but not necessary:

Publishing in your field

Speaking experience about the topics you know best.

Awards, Honors

Faculty Positions about your area of expertise.

 

 

Do I have to be Board-Certified in a Forensic medical specialty?

The answer is different for all medical specialties vs. Psychiatrists. Only Psychiatrists can achieve Board-Certification in Forensic Psychiatry (as distinguished from general Psychiatry).  Doctors in other specialties can acquire medical-legal knowledge through personal research and, to a lesser extent, taking courses in the application of their knowledge to the law.

Pathologists will not be surprised to find themselves giving testimony, but there is no unique Board-Certification for Forensic Pathology per see.

Physicians in any specialty are sought for their expertise. Juries must understand medical issues if a medical concern is involved in a litigated matter.

Just for Psychiatrists and Psychologists:

Forensic Psychiatrists do not have to be Board-Certified in the subspecialty of Forensic Psychiatry (ABPN) or, for psychologists the Forensic Psychology Board-Certification (ABPP) to render psychiatric or psychological forensic opinions.

You will, however,  run into serious problems if you create an impression you are Board-Certified and you are not–whatever the specialty. Only Forensic Psychiatrists and Psychologists have this problem, because of the distinction between Forensic training and Board-Certification and general training and Board-Certification.

If you are not Board-Certified in your forensic subspecialty, you should consider it. It may not be as hard as you think.  From the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law:

Per the ABPN the primary requirement is  “…successful completion of one year of ACGME-accredited fellowship training in forensic psychiatry……may be completed on a part-time basis as long as it is not less than half time; credit is not given for periods of training lasting less than one year except under special circumstances that must be approved by the ABPN Credentials Committee.”  There are other requirements including exclusions, and the certification examination.  The ABPN site is the best source for this information, not me.  Note: the ForensicExpertPro website contains information for those Board Certified in their primary specialty, (general) Psychiatry or Psychology.  I have limited experience with experts in satellite or adjunct fields. For example, I have worked on cases where forensic opinion and testimony were rendered by a Licensed Social Worker (LCSW) but know nothing other than that it has occurred.

How do I become a Forensic Psychiatrist or Psychologist?

The answers for a psychiatrist differ from a psychologist. Physicians in any area of medicine can conduct a forensic (lower case) assessment. Psychiatrists and Psychologists obtain unique education and examination for forensic work.

Psychiatrist

A fellowship is the first step for a psychiatrist. Fellowship is a one-year program that follows Psychiatry Residency.  Fellowships are only offered at a few dozen schools in the US.  Information about Fellowships is available from the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law site (AAPL).

The American Board of Medical Specialties

Board-Certification in Forensic Psychiatry–or any specialty, is granted by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. The American Board of Medical Specialties publishes a report of both Board-Certifications and requirements. Cross-specializations are sometimes attainable as valuable complement to Forensic Psychiatry. Read the 2018-2019 ABMS report for more information.

Psychologists

American Psychological Association article on Forensic Psychology.

For a psychologist the range covers postgraduate study, APA Board-Certification required training, fellowships, internships, Masters Degrees in Forensic Psychology certification programs, and it goes on. Specific colleges and universities offer degree programs in Forensic Psychology.

Many other sites do a better job of answering this question than me so I will leave it to them.  It isn’t my area of knowledge.

How much do Medical Expert Witnesses Earn?

This is the question I hear the most often. I write on the topic in depth in Setting a Fee in Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology. How to Determine Your Hourly Rate.

A physician in any medical specialty will find information of use there.

In short, the more you know, the more often you’ve testified (with a good impression made on the jury), the more attorneys who know you, the more you can charge.

Here’s a summary of the data elsewhere on this site:

1. No legitimate survey has been carried out for forensic medical professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists–it is too specialized.

However, data and information exist. Deduction and extrapolation help.

My experience is $250/hour to $1200/hour (how’s that for a range!), the bottom being a psychologist or nurse practitioner, or someone fresh out of school and without testimony experience.

The more education you have, such as Fellowships in subspecialties, the more you can charge.

For experts with 1-3 years of experience who have testified 5-15 times, the mean is nearer $400, mid-career doctors with sound credentials usually charge $500-800, a doctor at the top of their field might expect to charge as much as $1,000-1,300/hour.  Testimony is always charged at a higher rate than the base rate (add 40% or so to the figures above)

This is from my own personal experience.

INCOME vs. RATE

Two questions impact income: What is your billable rate? How many hours do you want to work in forensic practice? TimexRate=Income Income-Cost=Profit.

To summarize my research:

There exist 2 private surveys conducted by expert witness directories. The samples are small, the statistics misleading and application to your field is next to null. Most importantly, annual income reported is not usually identified as being full time or part-time. Not helpful.

Bureau of Labor Statistics reported annually is often cited in the press, but actually is not helpful because forensic work isn’t a separate category of study.

I believe forensic physicians in any field do not make as much income from their forensic practice as they could, by which I mean more billable hours. Your changes over time and ultimately reflects your experience: i.e., the number of billable hours you have spent learning your trade.

That is the point of my services–to get my clients more billable hours.

Whatever you decide to charge, don’t intentionally try to undersell your competition.

Your services are not available on Groupon.

Further, your rate reflects your experience. If you cut your rate because you want more work, it will be easier for attorneys to assume the rate is an accurate reflection of your experience even if it is not.

Click here for a printable version of this answer

What's the difference between a "forensic" professional and being an "Expert Witness? Do they always go together?

A forensic scientist studies material to form educated conclusions. 

An “Expert Witness” is a legal role. The person serving in this role renders opinions to help a jury or judge to understand the results of the investigation–an investigation the expert witness likely has conducted.

In short: If liability is proven, teaching the trier of fact will assist them in their decisions about the damages experienced by the injured party, and an appropriate award.  Some experts are “fact” witnesses and not “damages” experts. In that case they explain information resting on their professional acumen in a general way.

An Expert Witness is officially disclosed to the Court and all parties, subject to laws about their qualifications and limits to testimony.  

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What does "forensic" mean?

Etymology: Forum, as in presented in a public forum (Latin)

“Relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems…”  (Merriam Webster)

“Belonging to Courts of Justice.”

(Black’s Law Dictionary per “The Law Dictionary Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary Free Online Legal Dictionary, 2nd Ed.”)

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What is Forensic Psychiatry? How about Forensic Psychology?

“Forensic Psychiatry is a subspecialty of psychiatry in which scientific and clinical expertise is applied in legal contexts involving civil, criminal, correctional, regulatory or legislative matters, and in specialized clinical consultations in areas such as risk assessment or employment. These guidelines apply to psychiatrists practicing in a forensic role.”

American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Ethics Guidelines for the Practice of Forensic Psychiatry, Adopted May 2005

The American Board of Professional Psychology provides a similar definition:

“Forensic Psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system.  The word “forensic” comes from the Latin word “forensis,” meaning “of the forum,” where the law courts of ancient Rome were held.  Today forensic refers to the application of scientific principles and practices to the adversary process where scientists with specialized knowledge play a role.”

Forensic Psychology as defined by the American Board of Professional Psychology

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Is forensic work profitable?

This is the elephant in the room.  When you want to be known for your sage knowledge, you might not want your motivation to seem to be money.  The fact is, forensic work and Expert Witness work are conducted as a business.  Fees are charged.  Payment is expected. Costs are incurred.  Taxes are paid.  You have competitors who will take work from you if you aren’t actively promoting yourself. As a general rule, forensic work is considered a higher and best use of skill and experience than the ongoing business of providing services.  In other words, an Expert Witness on the topic of safe plumbing practices would be expected to know more than a garden variety plumber. For that reason, Experts are usually paid more than they receive in carrying out the duties of their profession.  Testimony is usually charged at a higher hourly rate than other work because it is more difficult and the stakes are higher. In some professions, Forensic work pays considerably better than an ongoing job.  To know the value of your skill in a legal environment requires research.  The usual sources of data, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics don’t tend to break out income for forensic work from the profession at large.  Some online services that provide information to attorneys about specific Experts have conducted surveys that may be helpful. When I am helping someone determine their fee, I consider the rarity of their knowledge and competitive value among others in their field. A commercial electrician is more valuable in commercial construction cases than a residential electrician. The commercial electrician can charge more, in my opinion, as a result.  A casual informational interview with a few attorneys in your area wouldn’t be amiss if you are just now considering taking on Expert work. Click here for a printable version of this answer

How much do you charge?

This is one of the first questions put to the expert on a first client inquiry call and I’m no different.  The question is actually “how much is this going to cost me?”  You do need some idea in order to make a realistic budget. The answer relies on what “this” is.  Is this a marketing plan with moving parts?  Are we talking about a website design?  Which of the parts will I handle and which will you?  Turnkey is fine.  Or are you more of a DIY person with hidden talents?  Experts sell their time and experience. That describes both you and me. I do my best to describe a reasonable range from what I have learned through experience.  I suggest choices about where to spend your money. My job is to help you make educated and wise decisions for the practice you have now and the one you want. I charge less than you do or, if I don’t, then we should discuss your rate.  Let’s talk. Click here for a printable version of this answer

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