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Expert witnesses are frequently consulted and called on to testify during trials. Expert witness businesses help connect litigators who need expert witnesses with qualified professionals. According to IBISWorld, the expert witness consulting services industry has an annual revenue of $130 million.
Who is this business right for?
Anyone who enjoys connecting with people and is detail-oriented may be well-suited for running an expert witness service business. Most of the work involves interacting with litigators and expert witnesses, so it’s helpful to be a people person. Because both litigators and expert witnesses can be very precise at times, it’s also good to be detail oriented.
What happens during a typical day at an expert witness service?
Business owners spend much of their time fielding requests for expert witnesses from litigators and connecting them with qualified witnesses. Business owners develop lists of witnesses, so the matching process involves little more than looking up what witness meets a litigator’s requirements and introducing the two parties.
Before or during the initial introductions, contracts are signed by the litigator, witness and expert witness service business. Additionally, business owners are usually responsible for collecting payment from litigators and giving witnesses their due fees.
When not working directly with litigators and witnesses, business owners spend their time finding additional witnesses for their database and marketing their expert witness business.
What is the target market?
An expert witness service business’ ideal customer is a lawyer who regularly takes on similar cases that are closely contested. Such a lawyer will likely have a regular need for expert witnesses in the same field, which gives a business an opportunity to specialize in that field.
How does an expert witness service make money?
An expert witness service business may make money two different ways. It may collect a percentage of expert witness’ fees as a commission, and it can charge expert witnesses to be listed in its database.
What is the growth potential for an expert witness service?
Most expert witness service businesses have just one location, from which they may serve many areas. Rather than expanding by opening additional offices, businesses grow by branching into other areas of specialty and finding more witnesses. A business doesn’t need a physical office in a state in order to offer witness-finding services in that state.
For example, a business might start out with a database of expert witnesses who are familiar with insurance-related issues, and then add medical expert witnesses to its services. These witnesses can be added without opening a new location.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful expert witness service?
In order to successfully match litigators with qualified witnesses, business owners must know what litigators are looking for in a witness. SEAK and the American Bar Association both have blog posts for lawyers who need expert witnesses. From these, business owners can glean some tips on what they should look for in the professionals they add to their database.
There are also books on becoming an expert witness. Expert Witness Training, The Expert Witness Handbook and How to Be an Effective Litigation Consultant and Expert Witness are a few broad titles for expert witnesses in any field. In addition to these, there are industry-specific books. Financial Expert Witness Communication and The expert Witness in Construction are a couple examples of industry-specific books for expert witnesses.
While these books are primarily targeted at professionals who want to become expert witnesses, many have insights that expert witness service business owners can benefit from.
Finally, The Expert Witness Marketing Book has tips that business owners can use to advertise their business.
What are the costs involved in opening an expert witness service?
The costs involved in opening an expert witness service business are minimal. Entrepreneur places the total cost of opening an expert witness business at between $2,000 and $10,000. The primary startup costs include:
- rent for an office space
- website costs
- advertising fees
Business owners who want to reduce their initial expenses can run a business out of a home office. This eliminates rent for an office space, leaving website costs and advertising fees as the main startup costs.
A business’ website must look professional in order gain litigators’ trust. The average cost of a website is between about $2,000 and $10,000. (Purchasing a website on the higher end of this range may push a business’ startup costs beyond $10,000. Nice websites are often available on the lower end of the range, so business owners can keep their total expenses within Entrepreneur’s estimated range.)
Advertising costs can be matched to a business owners’ available budget. Business owners who don’t have much financial capital can grow their business slowly, investing more in advertising as they gain more clients.
What are the steps to start an expert witness service?
Once you're ready to start your expert witness service, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your expert witness service is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your expert witness service keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting an expert witness service?
An expert witness service business must have a robust list of highly qualified professionals.
Business owners can find such professionals by partnering with expert witness courses. These courses prepare qualified individuals for work as expert witnesses, and the individuals have already expressed interest in this line of work. A company that offers courses may be willing to sell their class lists or showcase an expert witness business for a fee. SEAK offers one-on-one training and seminars, and Matson and Associates offers an online course.
Business owners may also find qualified professionals by cold-calling professors at colleges and universities. Even if they haven’t actively pursued becoming an expert witness, professors may be interested in supplementing their income with this type of work. They’re also typically qualified, because they’ve usually earned doctoral degrees and been published multiple times.
How to promote & market an expert witness service
One of the best ways to promote an expert witness service business is to attend legal conferences on topics related to a business’ areas of specialty. Many of the lawyers attending such conferences are prospective clients, as they’ll need an expert witness eventually. Meeting them in person gives business owners a chance to fully explain the services their expert witness business provides.
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How to keep customers coming back
An expert witness service business can set itself apart from the competition by having more highly qualified expert witnesses available. Litigators want the best expert witnesses available.
Price is often not as important for clients, because they’re mainly concerned with winning their case. By the time people need an expert witness, they’ve usually already spent a lot on legal services. They’ll continue to spend more if they think doing so will help them win.
How and when to build a team
An expert witness service business can be run by a single person. If business becomes too much for one person to handle, an administrator may be hired. Additional employees can be hired as the business’ revenue supports hiring more people. Lots of expert witness businesses, however, remain small and don’t many hire employees.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an expert witness service. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Expert witness businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a service agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example service agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your expert witness business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
Certificate of Occupancy
An expert witness service may operate out of an office. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease office space:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an expert witness service .
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build office space:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your expert witness service will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
The commissions that expert witness service businesses charge for connecting litigators with witnesses varies. Even modest commission percentages can be significant, though, because witness’ fees can easily be four- or five-figure sums.
The average hourly fee for non-medical witnesses is $275. Based on this figure, a witness may make $2,750 in just 10 hours of work. If a business collected a commission of just 20 percent, it’d earn $550.
As mentioned, some expert witness businesses also charge professionals listing fees. Businesses that collect a fee for including professionals in their database typically charge several hundred dollars per year. For instance, JurisPro’s fee for one year is $399. (Not all businesses charge listing fees.)
What are the ongoing expenses for an expert witness service?
The ongoing expenses for an expert witness service business are low. They include any office lease payments, utilities, website hosting fees and advertising expenses. Businesses that have employees must also pay their employees’ salaries.
How much profit can an expert witness service make?
Some expert witnesses businesses are highly profitable, bringing in thousands of dollars each day. How much a particular business will make depends on how many clients it serves and its areas of specialty are. Six-figure revenues aren’t impossible to attain, although a business must have regular clients to reach such sums.
How can you make your business more profitable?
An expert witness service business can increase its profitability by offering training for expert witnesses. This helps ensure witnesses will meet litigators’ expectations, and many witnesses will pay for such training.