Bring Out the Big Guns?

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When companies have big problems, they usually bring out the big guns. The benefits of using large law firms, audit firms, and other professional service firms are undeniable. These firms offer a depth of experience that is invaluable, and they have seemingly unlimited resources in terms of manpower. A large firm often has the ability to mobilize an engagement team quickly, and can bring in experts from around the world.

Does bigger mean better? Certainly the perception exists that larger firms provide better services. No one can fault an executive who chooses a big firm when trouble is brewing. There is an undeniable comfort level that comes with the big firms because they have established reputations and many resources. Even if the project goes poorly, no one can fault the executive who chose the large firm. Continue reading

Litigation Support Work for CPAs

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A CPA who focuses on traditional tax work or auditing services might be a great fit to branch out into litigation support work. Attorneys are always looking for expert witnesses with certain areas of expertise, and accountants doing general work might fit the bill.

What is your focus? Do you specialize in a certain industry or work frequently with certain accounting and tax rules? Litigation work is often interesting, but you have to be able to explain your work to non-accountants and testify in depositions or at trial.

The video below offers Tracy Coenen’s commentary on this topic.

From Chaos to Clarity in Financial Investigations

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The financial part of a case can become overwhelming very quickly. Particularly in cases involving white collar crime, securities fraud, Ponzi schemes, or other fraud recoveries, the trail of financial documentation is often very long. A forensic accountant needs to examine the financial documents and piece together the evidence in a way that attorneys, judges, and juries can understand.

When there are mountains of data, the investigator needs a way to quickly examine the data, assemble it in a format that is usable, find connections between transactions, and quantify results. Traditional forensic accounting techniques are no longer effective in these types of investigations. The volume of data can quickly overwhelm the investigator, and this affects the quality of the results. Continue reading

Expert Witness Selection: Substance Over Form

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Wisconsin Law JournalIn commercial litigation, many cases require some kind of expert. Whether it is a financial expert, an engineering expert, a fraud expert, a valuation expert, or some other type of expert witness, the process of selecting one cannot be taking lightly. The effectiveness of your expert witness could win or lose a case for you, so it is important to carefully consider what makes a good expert witness.

Qualifications and Credentials
One of the first steps in evaluating your expert is looking at the education and credentials of the person. The potential expert needs substance in this area to have a reasonable chance of standing up to any challenges by opposing counsel.

In addition to college degrees, you should look at the licenses and professional certificates held by the expert witness. What are the most important certificates in this person’s field? Does this person have them? Are the certificates held by the expert actually worthwhile? Continue reading

Looking Behind the Numbers in Litigation

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Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

Nearly every lawsuit has a financial component to it. In many cases, the issues surrounding the numbers have high stakes. Cases involving securities fraud, money laundering, tax fraud, investment fraud, and Ponzi schemes rely on an accurate tabulation and evaluation of the numbers. To take the numbers as provided by the other side at face value, however, would be a huge mistake.

In fact, there is almost always a story behind the numbers. A case may very well be won or lost based on the ability to find out the story, which is often hidden from view. How, then, can a party best get to the truth? Continue reading

Protecting the Work Product of an Expert Witness

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Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

Wisconsin Law Journal

One often overlooked key to successfully working with an expert witness is the protection of privilege and work product. Until the expert is actually disclosed to the other side, it’s in the best interest of the client to make sure that the expert’s work is protected.

While no airtight accountant-client privilege exists, it is still possible to protect communications when an accountant (or other expert) is working with an attorney on a litigation matter. Continue reading

Defending Tax Fraud Cases – Expert Financial Analysis Required

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Written by Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, CFF

White collar government investigations almost always have one thing in common: They rely heavily on an analysis of financial information. This often includes going through banking documents with a fine tooth comb, and can also involve scrutinizing accounting records.

While the task of accumulating this data and examining it seems basic, there is much work involved, and expertise in financial and accounting crimes is necessary to fully understand the issues and the potential criminal or civil charges that the government brings against the company or individual. To properly defend such a case, it is necessary to have a financial investigator involved to help filter the data and the issues the government will raise. Continue reading

Expert Testimony for Non-Accountants

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Testifying is the pinnacle of an expert witness’s work in a case. It may well be the most important part of the expert’s work, as the assistance of a competent financial expert is the key to cases involving economic damages and other financial calculations.

An expert must do much more than just analyze facts and calculate figures. Traditional accounting and finance skills are not enough when it comes to litigation matters. A financial expert witness must qualify as an expert in court, and must be able to convey her or his findings to non-accountants in both the written and oral formats. Continue reading

The Devil is in the Details: Lost Profit Calculations

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Lost profits are a typical element of damage claims in legal actions. They seem fairly straightforward, yet opposing experts can come up with vastly different numbers. Often, the calculations are in fact not straightforward, and the process of estimating lost profits can become very detailed and cumbersome.

In general, lost net profits are calculated by first estimating the lost gross revenue or sales due to the act. The lost gross revenue is then reduced by the avoided costs, which include all of the normal costs related to providing a good or service. This results in the net profit that would have been realized if the sales would not have been lost.

Some experts like to use lost gross profit as a measure of damages. This usually isn’t the correct way to value damages. Gross profit only includes figures for revenue and cost of goods sold. Such a calculation fails to consider other costs of a business that may be closely related to providing a good or service.

Another key aspect of a damage calculation is correctly estimating the period of loss. The loss normally begins on the date the act occurred, which can be fairly easy to determine. The ending date of the loss period may be more difficult to estimate. It will likely be based upon the date business resumed to normal levels or the end of the term of the contract.

Calculating Lost Revenue

The first component of a lost profits calculation is the revenue lost due to the matter in litigation. The method used for calculating lost revenue will vary depending upon the industry, the data available for the calculation, and the type of loss. There are several common methods for calculating lost sales.

One method compares a company’s performance prior to the event, to the performance after the event. The theory behind this calculation is that “but for” the defendant’s actions, the company would have achieved sales and profits similar to those before the event. This calculation relies heavily on the company’s historical accounting records as a basis for the lost profits calculation.

A second method for calculating losses uses benchmark data to calculate the revenues and profits a company should have had. Benchmarks may include data from another company, financial results from a different location operated by the plaintiff, industry averages and norms, or the company’s budgets and projections. If the expert uses this method, she or he must first demonstrate that the benchmark is applicable to the plaintiff and therefore the proper measure for the damages.

Other approaches for calculating lost revenues and profits may certainly be appropriate, and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A method that may be reasonable in one case might be totally inappropriate for another matter. It is wise for the expert to step back from the calculations and consider whether or not the numbers appear reasonable under the circumstance.

Calculating Expenses

To arrive at lost profits, the expert must calculate the costs associated with generating revenue. For example, a company that manufactures a widget incurs material costs, labor costs, utilities, supplies, and other costs to make each widget. To the extent that the company lost sales, the company also did not incur the expenses related to those sales. These avoided costs need to be calculated and factored into the net loss.

It’s important for the financial expert to understand the company’s cost structure, but the degree of detail required in estimating costs will vary from business to business. It is necessary to understand how the company’s costs relate to the sales and what factors affect the costs. The accounting concepts involved in understanding and dissecting the cost structure are many, and require diligence on the part of the expert.

As with the calculation of lost revenues, it is important for the expert to examine the calculated expenses for reasonableness. She or he must be satisfied that the numbers make sense in light of the information available in the case.

Other Issues
One critical part of the damage calculation process is the determination of causation. If a company suffers a loss of sales compared to “normal” levels, the expert should consider possible reasons for the drop in sales.

While the sales loss may be related to the legal matter at hand, it is also possible that market conditions may have impacted sales. It is important to examine how things such as economic conditions, government regulations, company reputation, and desires of the marketplace may have impacted a sales loss. Any reduction in sales related to these types of factors should be excluded from the calculation of lost profits in a litigation matter.

Lost profits for new businesses are difficult to estimate because of the lack of operating history. In these cases, other sources of data must be sought to help calculate damages. Sometimes business plans or budgets are used, even though these may be regarded as somewhat speculative. The expert is often left to make many assumptions about the new business, but ought to seek as much support for those estimates as possible.

If statistics or outside data are used to calculate damages, they should be derived from widely-respected and reliable sources. Experts often look for outside information to support assumptions made in the calculation of lost profit. This information should only come from sources that are known to provide reliable and accurate data.

The expert witness must consider whether the plaintiff was able to make up sales or in some other way mitigate the damages in the matter at hand. If a company can find alternative ways to produce a product or locate a new supplier of raw materials, these types of things might reduce the damages. The expert must also consider whether mitigation was possible, even if the plaintiff did little or nothing to mitigate the damages.

The calculation of lost profits can be a very detailed, time-consuming process. It is necessary to be as accurate as possible when estimating lost sales and avoided costs. Yet it is important to remember that this is not a precise process, and does rely on estimates. The expert must calculate damages that are reasonable and that use reliable information and widely-accepted methodology.

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