Expert Witness Testimony: Communicating to the Court

Standard

fraud-magazine-acfeThe best financial expert witnesses help win cases by artfully and simply communicating the facts through written reports and oral testimonies. And you can learn how to do it.

While waiting in the hallway outside the courtroom to testify as an expert witness, I thought of all the ways my testimony could go wrong. I had hours to contemplate opposing counsel’s questions for me. It was my first time testifying, and I didn’t want to blow it. But I relaxed as I eased into the witness chair and stole a glance at the jury. They were ordinary people who were just hoping to understand my calculations. I led them simply through the financial matters. From the looks on their faces, I think they understood.

In my testimony, I closely followed the main points of my prepared report. The counsel who had hired me showed large exhibits from my report, which illustrated my points. We easily walked the jury (and the judge) through the numbers. Opposing counsel tried but failed to confuse the jury members. I knew I had hit a home run when I saw the foreman nodding each time I made a point. His new understanding of the issues would prove invaluable during jury deliberations.

————————————

Competent and convincing expert witnesses are a vital part of cases involving economic damages and other financial calculations. Traditional accounting, financial and fraud examination skills just aren’t enough when it comes to litigation. A financial expert witness must be able to qualify as an expert in court and then effectively communicate in a written report and oral testimony to an opposing lawyer, a judge, and a jury who probably aren’t accountants or fraud examiners. Continue reading

Providing Forensic Accounting Services as a Small Firm

Standard

FOCUS – Newsletter of the AICPA Forensic & Valuation Services Section

Forensic accounting and fraud investigation are hot specialties in the accounting world. Experts agree that the need for fraud detection services is growing, creating opportunities for small and midsized firms that are looking to start or expand a forensic accounting practice. Building a stable forensic accounting practice takes time because the services and clients are unique. The key to becoming a real competitor in the area of fraud investigation to focus your firm’s strengths on the right quality services and clients to enhance your brand.

Forensic services are usually divided into two subsets: fraud investigation (financial statement fraud, corporate embezzlement, bribery, and insurance fraud) and litigation support services (contract disputes between corporations, shareholder divorces, intellectual property infringement, business insurance claims, bankruptcy consulting, business valuation, and family law issues). Within both service areas exists a variety of potential clients, including attorneys, corporations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals. Those clients can be divided further according to the industries in which they specialize or the types of matters in which they’re involved. Continue reading

Collision of Expert Witnesses, Social Media

Standard

Ask a random group of attorneys what they think of social media, and you’ll get some funny looks. Several of them will turn up their noses, while an equal number will have only a vague idea of what you’re talking about. Although more attorneys are participating in social media, there is still a good bit of reluctance to get involved.

The phenomenon called social media is simply a category of online resources used by people to communicate with one another, research topics of interest, stay on top of current events, and market their businesses. It includes blogs, which may be used by professionals to write about news affecting their industries, promote their businesses and expertise, and engage in dialogue with others in far away places.

Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are considered to be more pure social media than blogs. A blog can be created and maintained without interaction with other people, if that’s what the writer chooses. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites require interaction with others to make them worthwhile. On these sites, you will “connect” with people you know or are interested in, and you’ll be able to see updates they post about themselves and their companies, articles they’ve written, and articles they find interesting. You will be able to “like” or comment on their updates, and often engaging discussions follow. Continue reading

The Future of Financial Investigations

Standard

What is at the heart of almost every securities case, whether the case is pursued by the government or a private party? It is a trail of money. The difficulty in prosecuting or defending a securities case is the fact that there is voluminous financial data that must be culled, analyzed, and presented in a way that proves the case.

For the last three decades, securities and financial fraud cases have been evaluated by forensic accountants using manual processes. The financial investigators compared accounting data with source documents, ultimately trying to prove the source and use of funds.

This is complicated, especially in large cases (which are the ones the government most often cares about), because there can be a multitude of involved people, entities, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts.  The process of understanding and organizing the flow of funds is complex, and it can take months or even years before plaintiffs or defendants know exactly what happened to the money.

Cutting-Edge Forensic Accounting

The world of forensic accounting is moving in a new direction, however. Fraud investigators are slowly beginning to use technology to analyze large volumes of financial data much faster, more efficiently, and more accurately than they have been able to do using traditional investigative techniques. The shift has been moving at a snail’s pace, however, but this provides significant opportunities for parties to litigation who are willing to embrace change and harness the power of cutting-edge technology. Continue reading

Big Frauds Start Small

Standard

Take a look at the frauds in the news, and most of them are huge. Huge frauds make huge news.

As investors and the general public demand more transparency from companies and executives, the issue of fraud is being talked about more than ever. Everywhere we turn, the word fraud is rearing its ugly head.

While fraud is a good thing if you make a living as a fraud investigator, it’s not so good for business and profits. The impact goes beyond dollars and cents, as fraud can negatively affect employee morale, employee work ethic, investor confidence, and customer loyalty.

The sad truth is that almost all frauds started small. They had to start somewhere before they grew to those headline-grabbing proportions. Think about Enron, everyone’s favorite example when discussing corporate fraud. Continue reading

As Easy As 1-2-3: Working With Financial Expert Witnesses

Standard

A competent expert witness is vital to cases involving economic damages and other financial calculations. However, the expert must be much more than just a mathematician, market analyst, economic guru or forensic accountant. The job of the expert is far from over once the facts are analyzed and the calculations are completed.

Traditional accounting and finance skills are not enough when it comes to litigation. A financial expert witness must qualify as an expert in court and must convey the findings to non-accountants on paper and on the witness stand.

Probably one of the most important yet difficult parts of being a financial expert is relaying the findings without using accounting lingo. Accountants often forget that not everyone speaks their language. They are not used to explaining their findings to people outside the finance environment. Creating a meaningful understanding for readers and listeners can be an art form unto itself, and the best financial expert witnesses do it easily. Continue reading

Bring Out the Big Guns?

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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