My name is Steve Babitsky, I’m the president of SEAK Incorporated, and we’re here today with Attorney James Mangraviti from SEAK and we’re going to be talking about how to get started as an expert witness. So Jim, let’s start off by asking what does an expert witness do?
James Mangraviti: Good question. So an expert witness is someone who does a few things. The main thing that an expert witness does is an expert witness is brought into court to teach the jury. They assist the jury to understand some evidence in the case. So, that’s probably the main job of an expert witness, but expert witnesses do a couple of other things which can be kind of fun.
Number one, an expert witness will help retaining council understand the case and a lot of times, depending on the nature of the case, the lawyer needs a lot of help which can be really fun especially if you have an evil streak like me. The expert witness can also help the lawyer attack and go after the opposing expert witnesses. So, you’re involved in kind of the case perpetration. So, those are the three main things that an expert witness will do in a case.
Steve Babitsky: So Jim, how much do expert witnesses make?
James Mangraviti: Expert witnessing is extremely lucrative, extremely. We just did a recent expert witness fee survey– experts make $200 an hour on up commonly to $1000 per hour. A good expert witness can make over a million dollars a year. A good expert witness doing this 1 day a week can make 1, 2, $300,000 a year just doing it one day per week. But, there’s a reason that the experts make that much money because in a certain sense it isn’t easy.
Steve Babitsky: So Jim, what type of person is best suited to become an expert witness?
James Mangraviti: Oh, great question. Expert witnessing is not for everyone. Number one, you need to have some type of specialized knowledge, which everybody on the planet has but it has to be specialized knowledge that is going to be at issue in litigation, okay? There are lots of areas of expertise and disciplines that testify all the time; doctors, accountants, engineers, appraisers, accident re-constructionists, nurses, and psychologists okay, there’s tons of work out there for people like that. But for every other specialty it’s not just that you know a lot about something but that something that you know something about is relevant to litigation where there’s going to be a lot of money at stake. So that’s number one.
Number two, you need to have a somewhat flexible schedule. What do I mean by that? Number one, as an expert witness you are going to work on a deadline and you’re going to work on deadline a lot and lawyers are going to call you up on a Thursday and he’s going to need something on a Monday. The lawyer’s going to call you up on Thursday morning and he’s going to need something Thursday night. You need to have the flexibility to do what you need to do and you’re also going to need the flexibility to actually travel sometimes to go to testify but those trials are fairly rare.
Thirdly, hugely important, you need to be able to communicate and that means writing excellent reports, written communication, and being able to walk and talk. You have to be good at oral communication in the court room or I don’t care how knowledgeable you are, you are useless as an expert witness.
Fourth, you want to have absence of credibility baggage. What is that? I mean, you don’t want to have something in your background that’ll make you easy pickings’ on cross-examination that will make you not believable; you don’t want to have a perjury conviction. You don’t want to have something horrible in your background that your license was revoked two years ago for incompetence. These people will not serve as expert witnesses because they will have no credibility. They will be ripped to shreds if they ever were.
Fifth, and I tell people this is the first question that I ask them if they say that they’re interested in being an expert witness, I say “Hey, are you thin skinned?” What I like to tell people about expert witnessing is it’s not a contact sport, it’s not a collision sport, but it’s a combat sport. Lawyers on the other side are going to be paid to try and rip you to shreds, to try and tear your throat out, and you really have to be thick skinned if you want to excel at this work. So, those are the five things that I would say Steven.
Steve Babitsky: So Jim, what would be the first steps for a person that wants to get started as an expert witness?
James Mangraviti: Okay, getting started as an expert witness; one of the nice things about being an expert witness and there are a lot of good things about it, is, in terms of the things you need to get started, they are very, very minimal and they cost almost nothing or very little and there’s only two real documents you really need to get started as an expert witness. Number one is a Curriculum Vitae or a CV, which most people have one, if not you make it up. Be careful on how you make it up but you make it up and it’s just your time to do it and maybe some toner ink, okay?
The second thing that you need, or that you should have, is your retention contract so when the lawyer calls you up it’s a document that you can send out to request a lawyer to sign.
That’s it; if you’ve got those two things you can be in business as an expert witness and you know what business can you start where you can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? You just need two pieces of paper you can create yourself. So, it’s good to get started that way.
Steve Babitsky: And how should expert witnesses get the word out about the fact that they’re now an expert witness?
James Mangraviti: Okay, so for new expert witnesses, there’s a bunch of ways that they can get the word out. Perhaps the easiest and most effective is to advertise. There are tons of places that expert witnesses can advertise and you want to advertise in places that the lawyers that may be hiring you are going to be reading those things. The easiest things are expert witness directories. They’re fairly inexpensive but advertise, advertise, advertise. You can get tremendous return on investment for advertising. You can pay $500 for a listing and get 20, 30, $100,000 worth of business which is an incredible return on an investment.
Secondly is networking. Spread the word. Go to conferences where the lawyers that might hire you are going to be there. You know, use your contacts; get the word out through networking. Experts find that very effective. The thing about networking is that will take some time but it’s not going to cost a lot out of pocket.
The third thing is publishing. Lawyers a lot of times will find expert witnesses through literature searches and by publishing you’re getting the word out and you’re also establishing yourself as an expert because if you wrote about something by nature you’re an expert.
The fourth thing I would say is speaking. Get out there and talk. Talk to lawyer groups, talk to other groups where your talk will be published on the internet and it’s a good way to establish your expertise in an area, to meet people, and to get your name out there.
Fifth is direct outreach. What do I mean by that? I mean establishing a targeted list of lawyers that will handle cases that you’re targeting and contacting them and writing to them and sending them an email or whatnot. Say “Hey, I’m available to do this type of work” and believe it or not that can actually work.
The sixth thing you can do is there’s a bunch of brokers or expert witness referral services that are out there where you sign up for a nominal fee or for free with these people and they will get you work and the way that they make their money is they put a surcharge on your fee. There are some pluses and minuses with those, and that’s a topic for another day, but it’s a legitimate way for people to break into this work.
Steve Babitsky: So Jim, how does SEAK help new expert witnesses?
James Mangraviti: Well, we’re the Expert Witness Training Company and we kind of give A to Z services for expert witnesses. If you go to our website testifyingtraining.com what you’re going to see is a lot of free resources that the experts can download so they can learn this trade. We sell books for experts, videos for experts, we have expert witness training seminars, we have an expert witness directory that experts can list themselves in, we have 2,000 experts listed in there right now and that would get them work directly. And one of the things that we really enjoy doing is we work one-on-one with experts to help them build and expand their practices and to mentor them. So, there are a lot of services that we offer and we’re here to help.
We at SEAK recommend experts start with this text