Serving as an expert witness on a civil case related to security issues or perceived failures can be challenging, stimulating, lucrative, and difficult, all rolled into one project. There will always be a need for forensically-qualified experts for the civil suit process, but you must be prepared for the demands of the case and the lawyers who hire you.
Four critical first steps to becoming a successful expert witness include choose your primary specialty area; develop a well-organized Curriculum Vitae, otherwise known as your CV; set your fee structure for case reviews and consultations, document reviews, deposition testimony, and courtroom testimony; and market yourself to the bar associations and expert witness organizations.
Defining your specialty area in the security field will take some thought. You can be a security generalist, but it makes better sense—and it’s easier to market yourself—by specializing in certain areas, like premise liability, foreseeability, prior notice; negligent hiring, retention, termination; cybersecurity; security lighting, alarm, or camera equipment; physical access control; workplace violence; hotel, bar, or nightclub security; corporate security investigations; or policies and procedures.
Your CV is more than just your added-to résumé or a biography; it is a narrative document that should fully describe your career, including your educational background; professional certifications in the security field; security groups or associations you belong to and any offices you have held as part of your memberships; work experience; any teaching or speaking you have done; articles or books you’ve written or contributed to; training programs or webinars you have created and presented; and your collection of continuing education courses. Your CV should be able to tell the plaintiffs and defense attorneys, and a judge and jury that you have the required skills, education, and expertise to testify on the security matter in question. (Be prepared to go over every item on your CV—even on a line-by-line basis—during your deposition testimony with an opposing attorney.)
Setting your fee structure often depends on your level of expertise, how well-known you are for that expertise, and how rare what you do is in the expert witness arena. Most experts charge one fee to the attorneys who hire them for case consulting and document review, and a separate, higher fee for deposition testimony and courtroom trial testimony. These fees can range anywhere from $150 per hour to $750 per hour, with higher fees going to those experts with dozens of cases and years of experience under their belts. Most experts ask for a retainer in advance and bill each month on the case in the months and even years as it goes forward.
You will need to be able to read, digest, and comment on the literal reams and reams of the associated paperwork attached to the case. This includes incident reports; police reports; diagrams; witness interviews and their deposition testimony; policies and procedures; medical reports; and other expert witnesses’ reports. You will be asked to write your own detailed report on your conclusions and be able to back those up in the deposition and courtroom testimony portions of the case.
Marketing yourself as an expert witness will require you to meet plaintiffs’ attorneys and defense attorneys (who often work for the insurance company of the firms being sued) who handle security cases. You can also market to state and local bar associations, which often have specialty practice areas related to what you do. Joining a professional expert witness association is helpful, like Forensis Group, a Southern California-based company that provides experts to attorneys around the United States.