Expert Witnesses and Social Media

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.

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Forensic Accounting Certifications

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.

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Finding the Best Expert Witness

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.

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Consulting Versus Testifying in Divorce Cases

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

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The Forensic Accountant as Consultant

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.

Maintaining privilege
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.)

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Taxes: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Taxes: You’re guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

That’s the way it works with the Internal Revenue Service. You have to be able to prove the numbers on your income tax return. If you can’t, the IRS auditor will pick a number and it’s up to you to prove them wrong.

It sounds unfair, doesn’t it?

Of course it does, but that’s the way the law works in the U.S. In normal criminal cases, you’re presumed innocent until the government proves you guilty. In tax cases, it’s the other way around.

Taxpayers run into trouble when they don’t have documentation to support the numbers on their tax return. What if the IRS believes a business has unreported income? Maybe the company has bad documentation. The IRS may use bank records to prove their case, assuming that all of the deposits are revenue. They may make an assumption that additional revenue was not deposited and was concealed. They have all sorts of methods to calculate what they think these numbers are.

That’s where a forensic accountant comes in. She can help shoot holes in their theories and their methods. Things get complicated quickly, and you need an expert who is well-versed in the methods the IRS uses to calculate income.

I help attorneys evaluate the numbers in tax cases (either civil or criminal) and challenge the government’s numbers.

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Accountants and Family Law Cases

Family law cases involving complex financial issues often require the assistance of a financial expert for the following issues: Preparing a financial disclosure, including creating a marital balance sheet Comparing balance sheets from period-to-period to evaluate changes in assets and liabilities Analyzing financial disclosures or affidavits prepared by the spouses Calculating the historical income of … Read more Accountants and Family Law Cases