How to retain an expert in a cost effective way

You can consult with an expert in five (5) different ways, from least expensive to most expensive, according to the technical needs of an insurance claim or civil litigation.

If you include peer review of your expert’s work or that of another party’s expert – good insurance – you can consult with an expert in nine (9) different ways. (Refs 1, 2)

The first way – a preliminary factual oral expert’s report – is the best way to start and involves very little of the expert’s time.  I gave a preliminary report recently based on 1.5 hours of my time.  You can upgrade later if justified by the evidence.  A preliminary report is based on:

  • a client briefing,
  • a document review and
  • a virtual visual site assessment or walk-over survey.

Judiciously selecting the best way is one key to managing the cost of claim adjustment or civil litigation.  You still got to manage your costs as distinct from the expert’s costs. (Ref. 3)

These different methods are described below.  And there’s a nice, five-item list at the end to help you see how easily the different methods follow on one another.

You must think about how and when you retain an expert because most failures in the built environment are small or medium-sized, not catastrophic and newsworthy – and not affluent either. (Ref 4)

Yet, regardless of case or claim size, most failures and injuries require a thorough engineering investigation consistent with how the expert is retained and what s/he is asked to do.  You can always start small and expand the investigation as.the evidence comes in, if this seems justified.

Peer review of the expert’s work, regardless of how she’s retained, is not so necessary, not one of the basic ways, but it is good insurance – and cost effective for that reason alone. (Ref. 1)  It’s done in science as a matter of course – a forensic investigation is carried out to the same standard of care.


In the past, experts have been retained in one of two ways:

  1. Consulting expert
  2. Testifying expert

Today and in the future – almost without exception – experts will serve as consulting experts in the resolution of disputes rather than testifying experts.  This is because of changes in civil procedure rules governing experts.  The changes are designed to expedite resolution of disputes and reduce the number of cases going to trial.

(I attended Expert Witness Forum East in Toronto in February, 2019 and gave an invited talk on the principles governing cost control involving experts. (Ref. 3) I learned that 98% of cases in one area of dispute were settled out of court.  I can’t remember the area but know it wasn’t engineering and science.  Nevertheless the great majority in these fields, percentages in the mid-90s, are also settled out of court)

The consulting expert will submit one or the other of the following two basic reports according to a client’s instruction.  Ideally, these reports would be submitted at several stages throughout an engineering investigation, starting at the preliminary assessment stage, to keep the client informed as to what the evidence is finding and the cost to date:

  1. Oral consulting expert’s report
  2. Written consulting expert’s report

The oral report can also be presented in one of two ways:

  1. Factual oral consulting expert’s report
  2. Interpretative oral consulting expert’s report

factual report gathers together all the data from the office, field, and laboratory investigations and submits the raw data to the client – without analysis and interpretation.

It’s used now in the science and engineering fields.  For example, in the geotechnical investigation of ground and foundation conditions at a proposed construction site.  I was introduced to this type of reporting while practicing in Australia and England for several years.  It’s used a lot over there.

An interpretative report analyses the raw data, draws conclusions and formulates an opinion on the cause of the failure or accident.  The report can be quite comprehensive, particularly in a complicated case.

The cost of a factual oral report is easier to estimate and control.  The cost of an interpretative oral report is more difficult.  Sometimes very difficult because you don’t know what you’re going to find at the site of an engineering failure or accident if you follow-the-evidence. (Ref. 5)

factual oral consulting expert’s report to a client could be quite inexpensive compared to a written report to the requirements of civil procedure rules governing experts.  A peer review of the factual oral report could also be relatively inexpensive.  The peer might discuss the facts with the expert – orally – and the investigation supporting these.

For example, I gave a factual oral consulting report on a power tool accident.  I did this after I videotaped the victim reenacting the accident and after the tool was examined for wear but before investigating the adequacy of the design and manufacture of the tool.  Counsel decided against further investigation based on my factual oral report.

Other examples: A colleague who reconstructs traffic accidents said he frequently gives oral reports on his findings.

Similarly, an interpretative oral consulting expert’s report could be relatively inexpensive with or without a peer review compared to a written report.  More expensive, of course, because of the interpretative element, but still less than a written report.

The written report can also be presented in one of two ways:

  1. Factual written consulting expert’s report
  2. Interpretative written consulting expert’s report

The relative costs of these two ways of writing a report on a forensic engineering investigation are apparent – less for factual and more for interpretative, and a little more still for peer review of either.

A summary of sorts

So, the cost of retaining an expert increases from least expensive – a preliminary factual oral consulting expert’s report without peer review, to most – an interpretative written consulting expert’s report with peer review.

It’s no surprise that an interpretative written expert’s report is one of the most expensive if it’s remembered that “An expert’s report is a critical, make-or-break document.  On the one hand, a well-written report will make testifying later at discovery and trial much easier … On the other hand, a poorly written report … can turn discovery or trial into a nightmare …” (Ref. 6)

And, I might add, turn questioning and rebutting the report, before discovery, into a cakewalk, a tsunami, if the report is distributed to all parties.

How you retain an expert – there are five (5) different ways – is one key to reducing the cost of all insurance claims and civil cases, affluent and less affluent alike.  You can’t lose, if you manage your own costs properly, as I’m sure you do, with so many cost effective ways to retain an expert.

And, like I said above, possibly the best way of all: Briefly talking with an expert at the insurance claim or case merit assessment stage.  Retaining an expert at this stage, for a few dollars, would be like a preliminary factual oral consulting expert’s report.  This is the most cost effective way of all and the best return on money spent on an expert; possibly even better than peer review.  You can always do additional engineering investigation, if justified by the evidence.

Here’s how the different ways of retaining an expert appear in a list, from least expensive to most expensive:

  1. Preliminary factual oral consulting expert’s report (at the insurance claim or case merit assessment stage aided and abetted by a virtual visual site assessment and walk-over survey)
  2. Factual oral consulting expert’s report
  3. Interpretative oral consulting expert’s report
  4. Factual written consulting expert’s report
  5. Interpretative written consulting expert’s report

A bit repetitious but I think helpful in deciding how to retain an expert in a cost effective way.

I did not include testifying expert in this blog because this role for an expert is much less likely in future – a few percent at most across all areas of dispute.


  1. Eureka! Peer review is good case insurance. Posted November 16, 2018
  2. How experts are retained in civil litigation is changing and the changes are good for counsel and the justice system. Posted May 1, 2014
  3. Principles governing the cost control of dispute resolution and claim settlement involving experts. Posted November 30, 2018
  4. Principles Governing Communications with Testifying Experts, The Advocates Society, Ontario, June, 2014
  5. Reducing the cost of forensic investigation – it’s being done now by default not by plan. Posted September 22, 2014
  6. Mangraviti, Jr. James, J., Babitsky, Steven, and Donovan, Nadine Nasser, How to write an expert witness report, Preface, Page xiii, SEAK Inc., Falmouth, Mass. 2014


  1. Peer review in forensic engineering and civil litigation. Posted November 26, 2013
  2. A bundle of blogs: A civil litigation resource list on how to use a forensic engineering expert. Posted November 20, 2013

(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada November 30, 2018

(Updated March 19, 2021)   

Eureka! Peer review is good case insurance

Peer review of an expert’s work is good case insurance against a summary  investigation, a careless analysis of the data, invalid conclusions and/or a poorly formulated opinion on cause.  And if all’s good, then it’s good insurance against delay in resolving the dispute and taking up the court or tribunal’s time.

And if a forensic investigation was omitted then peer review and identification of the technical issues is good insurance if the review finds you’re out on a limb – it’s nice to know where you’re at if you’ve got to backtrack.

(Summary as in “done quickly in a way that does not follow the normal process” – not thorough. Ref. 1)

By definition: Peer review is a process by which work (such as a scientific or engineering study, investigation or report) is checked by one or more experts in the same field to make sure it meets the necessary standards before it is published or relied on. (after Ref. 1) It can be as simple as getting an independent expert to simply read the report of the investigating expert.

Also by definition: Insurance is a means of guaranteeing protection against loss.  For example, “The peer review is your insurance against the loss arising from a summary forensic investigation or no investigation at all.”. (after Ref. 1)

I reflect on the above when I learn of failures and accidents in the built and natural environments that are well beyond the case merit assessment stage without benefit of an expert’s insight.  Not even a reading of the documents and a walk-over survey of the site – relatively quick and inexpensive forensic engineering tasks..

I had the Eureka! moment recently when I was following up on the status of a case after consulting with an advocate on the need for an expert to look into the matter.  Initially we discussed the circumstances of the problem and confirmed I was qualified to investigate it.  I was remiss at the time in not inquiring about the stage of the civil litigation.  I was surprised during my follow-up to learn that the case was in discovery.

Oh boy, what to do this late in the game?  I found myself typing my last sentence in an  e-mail suggesting peer review –  it just came out of the blue, the Eureka! moment “Peer review is good case insurance”.

I know about peer review in forensic engineering but never thought of it as insurance.


By way of refreshing your understanding of peer review in forensic investigation you might read one or more of the blogs listed below in the references that I posted in the past.  They’re all quite informative, if I do say so myself, particularly Ref. 4 on peer review costs.  If nothing else, that one could save you money in litigation involving experts.  My blogs are also well referenced to the engineering and scientific literature on peer review so lots of good reading there too.


  1. Merriam-Webster dictionary, November 10, 2018
  2. Peer review in civil litigation and civil litigation. Posted November 26, 2013
  3. Peer reviewing an expert’s report ensures the justice system gets what it needs. Posted January 15, 2016
  4. Peer review costs can be controlled. Posted January 22, 2016
  5. Peer review pays off – 17 years later. Posted May 5, 2018