Consulting meteorologists and oceanographers should have a clear, well-defined schedule for expert witness testimony and the research that goes along with it. These rates should be based upon: (a) your professional standing; (b) the foundation knowledge/effort/time it has taken to get you to your present professional sanding; (c) the range of consulting salaries that commonly exists for persons in your profession.
Setting Fee Schedule
In today's complex world, it is important to keep in mind that "time" is a valued commodity. Hence, it is common for consultants to charge a flat hourly rate based upon time used, no matter what was accomplished or not-accomplished during that time.
It should also be kept in mind that once you achieve professional status, the very fact that a firm has hired you, and listed you as an expert witness, could "scare" the other side into settling (either because they were hoping an expert witness meteorologist or oceanographer would not be hired by the other side, or because you are, well, plain good at what you do). Hence, you should be "jealous" about this designation, and charge for it.
Normally you should separate out the fee for deposition testimony, even if it is at the same hourly rate. You can simply state "...my rate for deposition testimony is my hourly rate with a minimum of one hour....".
Suppose you are retained as an expert witness, and are declared such by the side you are working for. Yet, you had not done any work as yet. Suppose that the other side settles. Your name would have been listed in the disclosure documents as being involved with the case, yet you would have gotten not a dime for it. A common "fix it" for this is to charge a non-refundable retaining fee of several hours worth of rate for an attorney to list you as an expert witness.
Keeping Track of Hours and Charging for Time
How many hours to charge is a matter for personal reflection. In my case, I charge 4 hours because my day job is the most important to me. I also charge a high hourly rate for that reason as well. I got into consulting meteorology "kicking and screaming" and if someone want to hire me, they can choose to hire me and pay my rates, or get someone else.
It is also common to charge a minimum number of hours (usually, 1 hour) for deposition. A deposition is a legal proceeding during which opposing counsel is allowed to ask you questions to probe what you have discovered in your research for the case. You are required to provide all research, documents, letters, emails related to the case.
It is important that you cover your rates in the letter that you send to the attorney in answer to their initial query to you. My rates would be summarized as "...charged by hour of time spent on the case, regardless of activity, including research, report writing, deposition time, travel, court time, with 4 hours charged as a non-refundable retaining fee, and a minimum of 1 hour for deposition testimony..."
Current "Going Rates"
With that said, be careful. You must be able to defend your rate structure to opposing counsel, no matter how easily the firm you were hired by agreed to it. So please be realistic.
Common consulting hourly rates: (a) Beginning consultant with little experience, $50-$100 per hour; (b) 2- 5years experience, $100-200 per hour; (c) consultant with MS Degree, lots of experience and a CCM, $200-$275 per hour; (d) consultant with Phd and or lots of experience, with CCM; $275-$400 per hour.