Despite seeing the first signs of an improving economy, both the legal industry and governmental agencies are still experiencing a budget crunch. Changing fee structures at law firms and debates over the federal budget have left both groups with limited funds to locate and retain experts.
In the last few months most government agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, have been forced to defend their very expensive price tags. SEC Chairwoman, Mary Shapiro, told Senate Banking Committee members that budget cuts have caused reductions in personnel, technology and litigation expenses, including the amount spent on expert witnesses.
Although funds may be limited, locating the best experts is still vital to a successful case. When equally qualified experts present opposing facts to the court, the most persuasive and best credentialed experts often carry the most weight with juries.
These experts not only look impressive on paper, but also have the intangible ability to communicate with judges and juries. Unfortunately, many of these experts appear at first to be unobtainable to those with lesser litigation budgets because of larger fee structures.
Doing More With Less
The objective of any expert witness search is to find the right expert for a case, including an expert that fits the case budget. As government and corporate counsel are asked to handle more responsibilities with less money, the ability to economically locate and engage the most talented experts becomes even more important.
For example, the SEC is now responsible for enforcing the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting standards and uncovering Ponzi schemes, as well as implementing and enforcing Dodd-Frank. In one recent case, the SEC’s efforts to minimize their expert expenses was foiled when it came time to depose two of the opposition’s highly priced experts.
On June 1, 2011, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California used the “manifest injustice” standard, from Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to reduce the hourly rates charged by two experts.
On the issue of reasonableness, the court reduced one expert’s rate from $1,600 to $800 and another expert’s rate from $950 to $750. While this judge marked his opinion “Not for Citation” and did not intend it to set a precedent, it is indicative of tight government budgets.
Which Experts to Hire
Hiring better experts with a larger fee structure may actually save money in the long run and allow a litigation team to stay within budget. The best experts construct a stronger case in less time, often resulting in an earlier settlement or quicker resolution.
Experts that fit all of your desired criteria may charge a little more, but they will ultimately save you money. If an expert charges 50% more but gets the work done in half the time, you pay 25% less for the work performed.
Better Talent Equals a Better Outcome
With government organizations, corporations and outside counsel equally affected by cost concerns, everyone is searching for more efficient ways to engage high quality expert witness talent. With millions of dollars at risk in litigation, it is worth the time and money to search for the best expert witnesses to ensure the best settlement or judgment.
Tell us: How have cost concerns affected your attorney-expert interactions?