On being an expert witness (Part 3: Marketing)

July 2005 » Columns » PERSPECTIVE
Part 3 of this series about being a good expert witness touches on subjects not normally discussed in mixed company—marketing and fees.
Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S.

Part 3 of this series about being a good expert witness touches on subjects not normally discussed in mixed company—marketing and fees.

It is perfectly reasonable to seek employment as an expert, although some engineers would suggest that, like becoming president, the job should seek the man, rather than the other way around. But, if you heed the advice proffered in Part 1: Honesty (April) and Part 2: Knowledge (May), it is incumbent upon you to make the attorneys and judges in your area aware that you exist, that you are available, and that you have the credentials to help a client fully air the honest facts of a case.

Engineers seem to be averse to letting people know what they can do. Such modesty, if it can be characterized as that, is not only unwarranted, but also unwise. If you hide who you are—and your ability to shed honest light on a matter being litigated—you never will be hired, and you won't have the chance to rebut the testimony of experts who are less qualified than you.

The traditional way to get work is to become known to the rest of the engineering community. You can attend professional meetings, write articles2, and serve on professional committees that are staffed by fellow professionals. The prudent engineer always should be willing to participate in such activities, even if they are not useful in career enhancement. Service to your profession should be paramount, but such activities sometimes have the added advantage of helping you, as well as the services you provide, to become better known to those who could use them.

For example, one of the best sources of referrals in my specialty of hydraulics is a friend who happens to be a traffic engineer. When a chance for work in my sphere of expertise comes along, he occasionally recommends me, and I get a job.

Activity in the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and other organizations can be very helpful. Of course, the primary reason for such involvement should be to seek professional development, but fallout from committee activity, and especially service as an elected officer, can make the engineering world aware of your availability.

Speaking at professional organizations' business sessions especially can be helpful. In addition, the time spent speaking at professional meetings, as well as the time preparing to speak, can be counted in some jurisdictions as Professional Development Hours or Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which increasingly are required for continued licensure for both professional engineers and land surveyors.

As a budding expert witness, also consider writing and teaching as an adjunct to your career. State universities, and even private colleges, usually are on the lookout for engineers who can speak well and who have something to say about subjects relating to our profession. Not only will you be paid for such lecturing, but, again, you might acquire CEUs. Also, public speaking tends to spread the word in the engineering community that you are articulate, espouse opinions, and, in general, are available for engagement in both technical and legal activities such as expert witness work.

In my own case, while I never accepted speaking engagements with the express intention of having an attendee confront me at the end of the evening and ask for my business card, it has happened on numerous occasions. Most of the time, that is the end of it, but sometimes it leads to involvement in litigation as an expert witness.

Fair fees Shortly after the second column in this series was published, I received an e-mail communication from Lawrence Spielvogel, P.E., a Fellow/Life Member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), from King of Prussia, Pa. He recently wrote a paper for the Business and Management section of the ASHRAE Journal titled, Expert Witness Fees.

Spievogel points out that "some experts charge premium, or superpremium, hourly rates when serving as experts. For example, their regular fee may be $150 per hour, but they charge $200 for any time spent on expert matters, such as document reviews and research, and $250 for time spent in depositions and court." A higher rate for testimony in court is justified. One of the most stressful times you will ever spend in your life is on the witness stand "hot seat" being cross-examined by the opposing side's lawyer, who might be as relentless as a pit bull, trying to extract testimony from you that is favorable for his or her side.

To summarize, marketing your ability as an expert is neither a crime, nor unethical. Civil engineers should feel free to seek work and to let the legal world know what services they can provide when technical matters are being litigated. And you should seek appropriate compensation for this intense work.

Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S., is a consulting engineer in Hackensack, N.J. He can be reached at 1-201-441-9719; or e-mail him at pagan@cenews.com.


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