Expert Pay Discussion
You May Enjoy Your Work, But Don't Work for the Fun of It — Make Sure You Get Paid!
A common refrain among expert consultants is, "How do I make sure I get paid?"
The most important step in getting paid is planning to get paid. Being compensated for your work is too important to leave to chance, hope or optimistic confidence in the decency of your clients. It's business, for goodness' sake!
Do attorneys like to sign payment agreements? Usually not, particularly plaintiff attorneys. But you should ask yourself why. If the fees are agreed upon, and you are obligated to do the work just as the client is obligated to pay for the work, why should putting that agreement in writing be a problem?
My recommendation is to use an agreement that lays out simply and clearly, at a minimum, your rates for review, deposition, court appearance, travel time, and expenses, as well as your required retainer. I also recommend that you include a cancellation policy so you are not left holding an empty bag along with an empty waiting room or office when deposition or court appearances are postponed or cancelled. There should be signature lines for you and the client and dates for both signatures.
In your engagement agreement, you can also choose to spell out your expected payment schedule and other details. You can specify additional elements as venue in case of disagreement, although some experts do not wish to bring up the negative.
Your engagement agreement can be called a Fee Schedule, Litigation Consulting Agreement or Contract, or it can be part of an engagement letter (see examples of engagement agreements in The Expert Witness Marketing Book).
The most important points in getting paid are:
1) Do not begin reviewing files until you receive a retainer for the estimated time of the review.
2) Do not deliver your written report until your invoices are brought current.
3) Do not leave your office for a deposition without having received payment from (usually opposing) counsel covering estimated testimony time.
4) Do not leave your office for a court appearance without having received payment from retaining counsel covering estimated testimony time and bringing all other invoices current, unless you have an established relationship with the law firm.
You will notice in my recommendations, (which are based upon many true stories with unhappy endings), the absence of the words, "having received a promise that counsel will have your check when you arrive to testify."
In working with our expert clients on their fees and collection procedures my policy is this: If you are assertive, you will rarely have to become aggressive. For most people, having to be aggressive is not a pleasant experience, especially when dealing with attorneys. Avoid this situation by handling the administrative, invoicing and collecting procedures of your practice in a business-like manner — that is, clearly, consistently, and as early as possible.
Rosalie Hamilton is the leading authority on expert witness marketing and founder of Expert Communications. She provides customized marketing plans and consulting and coaching to individual experts and firms. She is also a prolific writer, contributing to expert witness directories, newsletters and newspapers, and professional journals. She is a popular speaker at conferences for such organizations as the American Society of Appraisers, NACVA, the Forensic Accounting Conference at Florida Atlantic University, SEAK, American Board of Vocational Experts, Appraisal Institute, Acoustical Society of America, Equipment Appraisers Association, and Forensic Expert Witness Association.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.