When you are looking to hire an expert witness, there are several costs you likely want to be aware of. Below, I have broken down the factors involved in setting these service fees using some examples from my own billing decisions.
The hourly rate will depend on how the practice is managed. If you decide on a higher hourly rate but only require the services for a few hours, the final cost may end up being lower than if you had agreed a lower hourly rate
The Value of Time
My rule of thumb is that 28 days is about as long as I can keep the specifics of a case in my memory. So, if I am asked questions or for further work within that period, I will not charge for time taken to refresh my memory or to prepare. Otherwise, there is a preparation cost added to the time.
Medical Record Review
The time spent reviewing medical records can vary as some bundles come completely unsorted. Some come sorted but not hyperlinked (if electronic), making it difficult to find specific entries by jumping to the relevant section. Therefore, one must factor in the time it will take to sort and identify the relevant information. Sometimes, just the absence of a specific document, such as a single blood test result or an X-ray report, may require the whole bundle to be checked more than once to confirm that the document is not present, thus adding to the time and cost of reviewing the bundle.
Minimum Time Spent
I subscribe to the view that any significant work (including refreshing one’s memory) takes a minimum of an hour to complete. More routine tasks are billed at a minimum of 1/2 hour.
All travel expenses are charged at cost, whereas travel time is billed at around 50% of my normal hourly rate. Because I value my clients’ time and aim to be punctual, my travel plans normally include a 30-minute buffer before any appointment, in case there is disruption. Therefore, travelling to an appointment often takes longer than returning home.
When it comes to time spent in meetings or conferences, I charge in increments of 15 minutes.
For court days, I set a daily rate, with a minimum of a full day being charged. Travel expenses, if any, are charged at cost as described above. Cancellation terms, along with other costs, are usually clearly set up and agreed upon in advance.
I normally charge for Part 35 questions at my normal hourly rate. However, having had the experience of a single page of questions that required almost a dozen pages to answer, I tend to account for a wider margin when giving a cost estimate before having seen the questions.
If asked to give an estimate compliant with Precedent H, I will tabulate all these costs into a spreadsheet and forward to the instructing solicitor. Underestimating the time it will take when estimating costs may mean that your fees will be limited to that amount when the budget is set by the court.
Every medico-legal practice will have set up their own billing practices, and they may differ from the ones described above. However, I find that most follow the general patterns I have outlined.