Attorneys, judges, and forensic accountants view the expert witness from different perspectives. Attorneys’ hire expert witnesses to arrive at favorable conclusions for the case, and to rebut the opposing expert. Judges will rely on the experts’ knowledge and give more weight to their conclusions, when the judge cannot reach one without such assistance.

The forensic accountant, having mastered the science of accounting, is able to assist attorneys and judges to understand and apply accounting principles to the law and to the case. An expert with extensive experience as a forensic accountant can investigate and determine solutions to accounting matters in dispute, write expert reports on their investigations, and testify in open court as an expert witness. The expert may be hired solely as a consultant during litigation, or to provide an expert opinion to be submit into evidence by testimony or in a report. Often, the roles of expert witness and expert consultant merge, where requested or arranged by the attorney on behalf of his client.

When hired to provide an opinion, the forensic accounting expert witness should reach conclusions independent of which side hired the expert, however they may arrive at similar conclusions. The expert must direct his written reports and oral testimony are submitted by the expert under oath, and must be directed to assist the ‘trier of fact’ (who is either the judge or the jury) to arrive at valid conclusions in light of the accounting matters as applied to the law.

In other cases, the forensic accounting expert will serve the roles of investigator, counselor and educator to the attorney, the court and the jury. In fulfilling any of these roles, forensic accountants offer many skills to assist the attorney. They have specialized experience and education in working with trial lawyers and in discovering and uncovering accounting, tax and financial facts and issues in the discovery phase of the procedure. Forensic accountants also have the know-how and skills necessary to issue an expert’s report that will assist the engaging lawyer and the trier of fact to understand the accounting, financial and tax issues, and to reach a and testify on a logical conclusions, and testify on them.

Forensic accountants are hired for many reasons, and the amount of work, time, and costs involved will be determined by the facts, issues, and results required by the case and the requirements of the trier of fact. The times at which a forensic accountant might be hired are as follows:

  • Before litigation begins to determine whether allegations of either a prospective plaintiff or defendant contain valid accounting or financial issues that may support a basis for a complaint, or defense against a complaint;
  • Shortly after litigation begins to serve as an accounting consultant to advise the client on accounting matters in dispute;
  • Shortly after litigation begins to serve as both an expert witness and consultant; or
  • Shortly before the trial date to serve both as an expert witness and consultant during the trial.

Furthermore, avoid the mistake of hiring the expert last minute.  If the expert is hired late in pre-trial process, it will affect the expert’s ability to thoroughly review all the information he or she needs for the deposition or trial. Moreover, the best results are attained when the lawyer and the accounting expert establish a working relationship early in the case.

By: Frank Rappa