Financial expert witnesses are the key to helping judges understand complex financial issues. It is imperative that the judge understand accounting and finance scenarios if you are to succeed in court. Tracy Coenen and Miles Mason discuss how your expert witness can help judges understand.
If a court case doesn’t settle, the trial is obviously the most important part of the case. As an expert witness, you want to think about the possibility of trial throughout your work.
Earlier this year I was interviewed by Rod Burkert for NACVA’s magazine, Value Examiner. Practicing Solo is a feature on solo practitioners, with the idea that it will help others who are solo or considering going solo.
- My credentials: CPA, CFF
- I’m located in: Milwaukee and Chicago (I got my start and live in Milwaukee, but I do about half of my work in Chicago)
- I’ve been on my own since: January 2000
- Name of my firm: Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting (www.sequenceinc.com)
- My practice sweet spot is: Exclusively forensic accounting
Rod: So the BVFLS profession isn’t exactly a calling. Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Tracy: For me, it absolutely felt like a calling. I am fascinated with the criminal justice system and I wanted to be a part of it. I majored in Criminology and Law Studies at Marquette University, and I saw myself becoming a prison warden someday. As a sophomore, I took a class called Financial Crime Investigation, and I was hooked. I started taking accounting and economics courses so that I could work toward a forensic accounting career. I worked as a probation officer while I worked on an MBA at night, finishing up the requirements needed to sit for the CPA exam.
My first job in the accounting world was as an auditor for Arthur Andersen. I got as much experience as I could while I was there, and then I moved to a small forensic accounting firm so I could get started in my desired specialty. After a couple of years, I left to start my own practice. I had visions of growing my practice by adding staff, but after working with a few employees, I decided that I liked the solo practitioner life better. I’ve been solo for years now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I like being responsible for everything on my cases. I have excellent quality control, and I know the numbers inside and out. When it comes time for depositions and trial, I can answer the questions about the numbers confidently. Read More
Ask attorneys what they think of social media, and you’ll get a wide range of responses. Some are actively involved, others are avid readers, and some stay as far away from it as possible. There is still a fair amount of reluctance to get involved, whether it is a more “social” type of social media (like Facebook or Instagram) or a more professional one (like LinkedIn or possibly Twitter). Also included in social media is blogging, something that has been around since the late 90s, but which many lawyers and experts still refuse to be actively involved in.
Social media is an opportunity to write about what you know and promote your business and expertise. You can engage in dialogue with people people from far away places. There is so much that can be learned from interactions on social media, and so many relationships that can be developed (which would have previously been nearly impossible).
But of course, there are pitfalls. There is a common bias against social media: That it’s simply a waste of time because it is mostly about socializing and games. While there is definitely a very personal component to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, their utility goes far beyond being a neat way to kill some time.
Social media is being actively and aggressively used by people who have a business reason to be there. Many participate because they love the exchange of knowledge and are eager to fill others in on current events, industry happenings, or interesting news stories. Others participate mostly to promote their companies and brands in some way. Some join in the discussion to raise their professional profiles and to gain credibility in their fields. Read More
Lately I’ve been thinking about professional certifications. A financial expert on the opposite side of a case came to the table with 10 certifications listed on his curriculum vitae (CV). And I had to wonder what was the purpose of that?
There was lots of overlap. Three of the certifications were of the “CPA” variety. Three of them were related to forensic accounting. A couple of them were related to bankruptcy consulting. And a couple other miscellaneous ones were thrown in for good measure.
This gentleman has been in the industry for a long time, so he certainly has established a reputation by this point. When an accountant is younger and less experienced, certifications might help him or her look like a stronger witness. But as you mature in the field, multiple certifications just seem like a waste of money.
There are so many certifications out there these days. Running membership organizations is big business. Some of these organizations exist only to turn a profit. They come up with a cleverly named certificate that sounds fancy, charge a fee to get it, charge annual fees to renew, and charge for “necessary” continuing education. Read More
Daubert challenges are used by opposing counsel to limit or exclude the testimony of expert witnesses at trial. In this video, Tracy Coenen discusses how she deals with Daubert challenges in her work.
More than ever, competent and dynamic expert witnesses are critical to winning legal cases. Even if a case doesn’t go to trial, a credible expert can be the key to settling the case for your client. I believe that an expert witness has the opportunity to make or break a case. We all know that there are few chances to fix a bad opinion when you go to court. There is one chance to express the correct opinion and support it fully. A faulty opinion, or one with little reliable support, can doom a case.
Some attorneys have their preferred experts, while others get referrals from colleagues. Each attorney works with an expert witness in the way that she or he is comfortable. However, it never hurts to hear about it from the other side. This is my perspective on best utilizing your expert witness to her or his full value.
Finding the Right Expert
The most critical part of working with an expert witness is finding the right one. Naturally, the selection of an expert involves the evaluation of education and credentials. The examination of an expert’s credentials is a particularly critical process. Read More
A financial professional can fill two distinct roles in family law cases. He or she can be a consultant who provides analysis and opinions privately to the attorney and client. The consulting expert’s work and conclusions are not intended to be presented in court, and are intended to be of an advisory nature. The other role is that of a testifying expert, alternately called an expert witness. The testifying expert must be disclosed in the event that the case goes to trial.
The services of a consulting expert may include:
- Explaining financial topics to the attorney and client
- Providing opinions and advice on financial matters, including the value of assets and liabilities, the taxability of settlement scenarios, and the strengths and weaknesses of the financial portion of the case
- Helping to develop a litigation strategy
- Devising a strategy for presenting financial issues to the court
- Evaluating a testifying expert’s work as a “second set of eyes,” which may help identify weaknesses or opportunities in the testifying expert’s work
- Scrutinizing the work of a financial neutral appointed in the divorce
Forensic accountants are often retained in litigation as expert witnesses, with the intention that they will provide expert opinions and testimony on behalf of the client. Although retention as a consultant is less common, it is an important option to consider. Sometimes, the work of the consultant can be even more important than the work of the testifying expert. The consultant may be able to dig deeper into sensitive issues because there is no fear of testimony or of disclosing the consultant’s work.
One of the biggest benefits to retaining a consultant is the fact that the consultant’s communications and work product enjoy privilege. Because the consultant is essentially an extension of the law firm, the identity of the consultant, the scope of work, the evidence examined, and the results of the work need not be disclosed to opposing counsel. (Note that documents examined by the consultant may very well need to be disclosed as part of the discovery process, but the consultant’s work or impressions of the documents should not be disclosed.) Read More
You are only an expert if the judge says you’re an expert. No matter how many times you may have testified in court as an expert witness, each time you must prove all over again that you’re qualified to provide expert testimony.
In this video, Tracy Coenen talks about how she presents herself to the court as a forensic accountant so that she will be qualified to provide expert testimony. It is a combination of education, credentials, and experience.