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How much to charge for legal video services?

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Tiffany RiceHow much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 3:20:52 pm

I was recently offered a job doing a video inspection of a truck maintenance facility in Kansas City. It should be a simple walk through that should only take a few hours at most. This video will be used in an upcoming court case. Does anyone know what would be a reasonable amount to charge?

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Mark SuszkoRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 4:29:10 pm

Your day rate, or course.

Search this forum for that phrase and you'll learn all you need to know.

It doesn't matter how much money the case wins; that doesn't apply to your part of it.

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Rich RubaschRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 7:47:53 pm

Production crews usually work on full day (10 hours) and sometimes 1/2 day (5 hours). For me, if I could shoot in the morning, assuming that from the time I left my building until I returned was less than 5 hours, and then I could edit another project in the afternoon, I would charge for the 1/2 day rate (in our case around $600-800).

There is a chance that someone else would do this for $300-500 so you have to decide if you are willing to give up the job for a lower rate.

Bid accordingly. You never know if it will turn into much more than just a few hours!

Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production, Post, Studio Sound Stage

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Mark SuszkoRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 7:52:04 pm

While Rich is right, I find it rare that these kinds of situations really allow for two, separate, half-day sessions, where each "half" gets all the time it was allotted. Invariably, I find somebody ends up getting shorted with the half-days, so I usually say bill the full day, unless it really is a 2-hour job, door to door and home again.

Consider the lawyers hiring you charge hourly, but usually with a minimum. Since they pass your cost on to the rest of the costs associated with the case, there's usually little quibbling over the rates.

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Nick GriffinRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 8:34:05 pm

You are aware that shooting a video for use in court will almost invariably mean that you will have to attend the trial and attest to the veracity of the video. If you're lucky they might make you one of the first witnesses. If not you'll be compelled to appear when asked and return until called to testify. So you could be tied up waiting for anywhere from minutes to days. Plan on making sure your rate is established not just for the video but also for all of this extra time your are going to be told to provide.

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Mark SuszkoRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 8:46:24 pm

Maybe my info on this is old, but for simple depositions, usually they just have you sign some forms and be sworn; I never got called in to stipulate to any depos I ever shot. But what they call "prospectus" or "Day In the Life" videos - yes, you're likely to get called in for those, because the other side may try to get it thrown out on some technicality before the jury sees it and awards the big bucks. Making those while avoiding anything that can get the product rejected - is a special art.

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Nick GriffinRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 8:51:46 pm

Without knowing the specifics this did not read like it will be for a deposition. Instead seems likely it would be used as evidence. More likely than not, defense evidence as to how safe this particular workplace is.

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Mark SuszkoRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 14, 2014 at 10:07:37 pm
Last Edited By Mark Suszko on May 14, 2014 at 10:08:17 pm

I worked a case like that, some 30 years ago now, so I can talk about it. Guy got injured in a temporary construction elevator on the side of a skyscraper under construction. Lawyers wanted to prove the elevator was safe, so they hired us to shoot video of a recording accelerometer taking a trip to the top floor and back down.

Camera starts recording.

Technician places box with accelerometer device on floor of elevator car, hits the button to close door and send it up and back.

Elevator comes back.

Door opens, and the floor is covered with scattered pieces of mechanism and box.

(Lawyer) "Turn the camera off! Um, hey there... can you erase that tape?"

(Me) "You'll have to ask my boss; I get paid by him, so this is his tape first."

In personal injury cases, the opposition may try to look at all your raw footage, trying to find any evidence in word or deed of intentional bias, or incompetence, so we were trained to never to speak off-camera, no jokes, nothing, and never roll tape, on anything, anywhere, until specifically told. And that was only after the producer went thru a checklist of potential objections regarding the framing, lighting, sound, camera motion, point of focus, shutter rate, type of action, etc.... darned near anything. Judges were very specific then, down to banning framing changes and zooms, so no aesthetic editorial influence would "color" the imagery in any way for a jury member viewer. The stakes were great: some of the cases I worked on settled or awarded for tens of millions, back in the day.

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Ned MillerRe: How much to charge for legal video services?
by on May 15, 2014 at 1:44:58 am
Last Edited By Ned Miller on May 15, 2014 at 1:45:43 am

Hi Tiffany,

I am a freelance Chicago based cameraman and am certified by the American Guild of Court Videographers and have done a lot of litigation support videos although I do not do depositions. What they need you to do is called a Settlement Video, no one wants to go to court because it's expensive and they don't know if they will win, so they use the videos as a threat and demand the opponent to settle. Several things:

First, they were foolish to hire someone who is not certified in doing this. It's not that you have to be certified, it's that you need to know the rules of evidence, etc. that you learn when you go through the AGCV or CLVS courses. Lots of things you can screw up which would make your video inadmissable or worse, help the opponent. As Mark said, people often say the wrong thing, and with these types of video no editing is allowed, so TURN OFF THE CAMERA MIC.

Of course a shorter version can be edited a situation like this the other side is allowed to get an exact copy (called Discovery) of everything, meaning an unedited copy of what you shot. If someone says something stupid that can blow up in court.

As mentioned, you may have to make yourself available to testify but I doubt it, I never have, but you should establish what your hourly rate will be and don't be cheap. As to a "Walk Through", find out specifically what they need. Legal videos usually want to simulate the human POV meaning wide and if your client needs details do separate close ups. If the size of the thing matters have a ruler or yard stick in the shot. Shoot 1080 so still frames can be grabbed, that's quite common, or upsell them on you also doing stills with a good DSLR.. If they literally mean a walk thru then you should do a Glide Cam or Stedicam so you don't nauseate the people in court. What I do is have them pick areas and I do slow, wide pans on a tripod. Real slow.

In regards to what to charge, the legal industry is the only sector besides consumers who ask me what my hourly rate is. Ugh. That's because their only exposure to video is usually depositions which charge by the hour, usually with a two or three hour minimum. Since they did not seek out a certified videographer that implies they don't use video. Also, they will probably need you to make WMVs (they're a PC crowd) for them, perhaps edit a short version so ask if that is part of the price.

If you are in a larger metropolitan area, and you are working for a decent size law firm rather than a single lawyer, I'd say a half day should be at least $500 plus mileage and a full day $950 or so. Plaintiff's attorneys are cheap because usually there is no budget, they hope to make a killing if they win. So get a check at the end of the shoot day or when you deliver the media files because it is absolutely impossible to collect from a lawyer who doesn't want to pay. The nice thing about legal videos is they'd rather pay a little more for someone "who won't screw up".

So in sum, those are the prices I would consider average. Although it seems like a simple walk through, since a lot is riding on it, research how to do a settlement video, the rules. More complex than it appears.


Ned Miller
Chicago Videographer

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