HOW TO GET PAID FOR EXPERT SERVICES
When I started teaching and training individuals about how to become handwriting experts and document examiner experts I quickly realized that one could learn everything about analyzing, comparing, evaluating, peer reviewing, and testifying and still be a failure in the business of being an expert witness.
The most important issue after the education, training and experience is to get paid often and sufficiently enough to stay in business so you can help people who need you. Any expert who has been around long enough to have enjoyed some success has encountered the same old story over and over: “I will pay you later” or whatever the excuse may be. Remember, excuses satisfy only those who give them. Excuses do not pay our Google, Yellow Pages, postcard and advertising bills or feed our families.
I have even had clients ask me to front the plane fare and other expenses. Can you believe I did it — at least twice?? Wow. I sure have learned from my mistakes. You can now learn from mine two.
Often times the result of the case, whether a court case or a case of which employee gets fired for writing racial slurs on the bathroom wall, rests on our professional expert opinion testimony. It should be obvious to anyone with good common sense and adequate vision that experts can help win or lose a case. As a result of my expertise, I once helped a client get off death row. He has written me many letters of appreciation with much gratitude and I know he knows how important an expert can be to a cause or a case.
My attitude is strengthened every day about how valuable an asset an expert can be. In fact, I believe experts should get paid up front before their examination and always before any court testimony. This subject is a passion for my beautiful friend, Expert Rosalie Hamilton, who consults and coaches experts worldwide. In a recent letter from Expert Communication, Rosalie said “I feel that for experts, whose education and experience are significant enough to qualify them to assist the courts of our land in understanding the issues before them, to have to beg, cajole, renegotiate (bargain), institute collection procedures and even sue for their compensation is unseemly.”
You cannot survive in this business if you refuse to take a stand up front and demand payment before you begin your examination.
Early in my career, my staff and family watched me struggle for years with futile attempts to get paid after the job was complete. Accounts receivable. Now, we run our business by a specific set of policies which work well – like gravity – the same result every time.
Our new policy is that we do not examine a document unless we been paid for an examination, in full- up front. As a result of this new policywe now have little or no collection problem. The only exception to this policy is working with the State or City who have policies which pay 30-90 days. Of course, there are exceptions with less risk than normal but this course of action should only be followed after you acquire the experience and wisdom to discern good guys from the bad.
As an example, I just finished a case with one of the largest transportation companies in the state of Texas. The chief counsel called me and asked me to join him in a meeting with outside counsel (an attorney from one of the largest law firms in Dallas) concerning a forged document. The chief counsel discussed my fees during our initial phone call and then asked me to just bill him. After two meetings in their office, an examination of the questioned document and a notarized opinion letter, I simply billed them for my travel time, meeting time, mileage, and for the examination and subsequent opinion letter. My fee was paid within a week. Sometimes we do business on a handshake. But, it could back fire.
For me, the most important part about the collection process in this case was that I obtained an agreement up front that they would pay for my services. After that, they trusted me and I trusted them. We both were satisfied with the outcome and we completed our business feeling good about our professional relationship.
Remember, wise and experienced experts like Rosalie Hamilton agree, and I concur, Do Not provide an opinion, written or verbal, until you have been paid for your opinion. Let me give you one more example of how you must behave when forced with an emergency temptation to perform before you get paid: emulate my good friend from Oklahoma, Expert Brenda Petty, who never fails to follow her own policies. Brenda is one of the best experts in the South. Brenda met her client and attorney at the courthouse just in time for trail but Brenda had not been paid. Brenda’s client did not present Brenda with the payment before trial as agreed, so Brenda simply said, “I am out of here” and left the courthouse. Brenda’s client caught up with her just as she opened her car door, and paid her on the spot. Brenda testified – after she was paid.
Many experts require a client sign a contract before beginning work. I find this slows down the process and I have found no agreement or contract that fits every situation. Therefore, I seldom use a written agreement, but I do get a verbal agreement on price and method of payment before I issue a written report. We simply say, “We do not release the results of our examination until we receive payment. How would you like to pay?”
A written agreement is essential if you utilize a credit card to accept payment. Get a signature or the credit card company will always side with the card holder.
Remember, when people call or contact you they expect to pay and are aware that when they place an order, it is time to pay and/or make arrangements to do so. If you have trouble asking for payment for your services, please go to a McDonald’s and buy something. Watch how the high school kids ask for payment: no hesitation, no fear of rejection, no embarrassment, no debate, no offer to collect after you finish eating or drinking. It is a simple statement – “The amount of your order is $12.94. Is that cash or credit, please?”
Habits are the best of friends or the worst of enemies.
So establish your good habits up front and you will be a success.