Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant
Nationwide

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

What do you want to know?

How much do Forensic Psychiatrists and Psychologists 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.

Here’s a summary:

1. No legitimate survey has been carried out for forensic 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 someone fresh out of school and without testimony experience.  Forensic Psychologists earn less than Forensic Psychiatrists.  $1200/hour is limited to psychiatrists at the top of their field who have testified hundreds of time with great effect. 

For experts with 1-3 years of experience who have testified 5-15 times, the mean is nearer:

$350-400/hour for psychologists

$500/hour for psychiatrists.

Again, this is from my own personal experience.

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.

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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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