You have met with your attorney and have gone over the elements of the case. Your attorney feels that you need a computer forensics expert. The usual inclination is to have the client, go into a search engine and pull a list of five to ten firms, go to their website and figure out, which one of these will help suit the client's needs? Some law firms already have "preferential vendors." Ultimately, it is up to the client to choose, since I can't think of a time, when the trial attorney was convicted and went to prison, for the crimes allegedly committed by a defendant.
The intent of this paper is to help you find and choose a firm, that bests suits your needs and will provide you with the information that you need, to make the appropriate choices. As a computer forensics expert will always advise my clients of the facts, since THEY are responsible for their own choices, so choose your expert wisely.
The best thing a potential client can do, before looking for an expert, is getting your "ducks in a row." By this, one must have paperwork prepared, a case number, a court, a complaint, etc. Information is paramount, especially when asking questions of the expert and the expert's ability to respond.
Once the client has the material prepared, a search can be performed for the ideal expert. There are several types of experts, in the computer forensics and computer forensics expert witness field.
One is the "loss leader." I have seen advertisements, for an outrageously low price. Once they get the potential client in the door, the firm in question hopes that they can "close the deal." Another type is the former law enforcement officer (LEO), turned expert. Granted, that as law enforcement officers, they may have done an outstanding job. Only due diligence, will shake out those who are qualified and those who lack the skills or even the tools, to perform the work. Then, there are those like myself, who have contracted and provided services to government entities. As contractors, and have the wide latitude, that LEO's generally would not possess. Finally, there could be a guy, fresh out of training, just looking to start-up and build a business.
There are wide choices in the selection of computer forensics experts and computer forensics expert witnesses, but the ultimate decision rests with you, the client.
SEAK Associates has put together the industry trend of average costs, for computer forensics experts and computer forensics expert witnesses. It is very detailed and within nominal parameters. This fee structure is based upon the SEAK National Guide to Expert Witness Fees and Billing Procedures.
Now, a client might inquire why there is such a fee structure, in place. Well, there is a lot going on, behind the scenes, when one operates a business. This known as a "wrap rate" which includes tools, equipment, software, rent, utilities and other overhead expenses. Obviously, this type of work is time intensive. In other articles and my website, I have cited the phases of Acquisition, Examination, Analysis and Reporting. All is dependent on various dynamics, such as the size of the data, the charge sheet, Bill of Particulars, the location of the work to be performed, travel, lodging, the venue for trial and such.
I recently had one case, which required two flights, to the destination, but all six of the Federal charges were dropped, after a diligent and careful examination and after a diligent and careful analysis showed severe deficiencies, were performed, by the LEO's, during the search and seizure, of the computer and cellular telephone media, respectively. There was a similar case, in Texas, with similar dynamics, leading to those charges not only being dismissed, but dismissed, with prejudice.
In another case, an attorney only wanted to spend $2,000 and between travel and the government agencies IT problems, I advised him that considering the case, we were looking at closer to $5,000 to perform a triage, for a location, near Hanover, Maryland, 150 miles r/t, from my starting point. I advised him early on of the issues encountered at the government facility and asked the attorney to reach out and have these issues, squared away. The attorney apparently decided to limit his expenses, on the matter and is now presently on his third expert. Similar issues and challenges have reared their ugly heads, for two other different experts.
Each case is not only unique, but can also have inherent unique dynamics. My experience is that success or failure comes down to what the report content states. In composing a report, content is king. I've seen two page reports, which can be lacking in detail, to say the least. I would ask any firm, "What goes into your report?" I would consider my detailed report, the key in having the charges dismissed, if not being a useful tool, while testifying. The report was based upon facts and citations, supporting these facts, which were immutable. The detailed report and the activities leading up to the report, was key in the dismissal, prior to trial.
The usual benchmark for experts can run between $8,000 and $15,000, and potentially even more, depending upon the case dynamics. As attorney Melvin Belli once said about expert witnesses, "You'll probably win with one, but surely lose without one."
Choose, but choose wisely.
Steven Moshlak has over 30 years of experience, in the realm of computer forensics, in the criminal, civil, administrative and Uniform Code of Military Justice arenas. Mr. Moshlak has worked for a number of tech-oriented companies and owns his own business, Computerlegalexperts.com. Mr. Moshlak has performed the recovery of deleted and performed the decryption of files of accounting programs, spreadsheets, zip, databases, e-mail and word processing documents. Serving, and have served as a project manager in the technological development and cost analysis of information technology systems; hardware and software, both commercial and under the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, (FISMA).
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