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Pursuing Litigation Consulting As a Career Path

Jumpstarting a career as a litigation consultant and expert witness

Getting started as a litigation consultant or expert witness takes time. The service is cyclical, and the first engagement may be the last engagement. You’ll need to be well-prepared and knowledgeable in each field.

Pursuing Litigation Consulting As a Career Path

Pursuing Litigation Consulting As a Career Path

I recently attended NACVA’s National Conference, June 5-8, 2013 in Washington, DC.  I congratulate Parnell Black and the NACVA Staff for assembling a highly informative, well planned convention.  Most of the sessions that I attended were within the Financial Forensics track.  These sessions dealt primarily with litigation consulting, report preparation for court purposes and expert witness testimony.

I found the breakout sessions extremely interesting.   Each one prompted attendees to ask detailed questions pertaining to the previous group lecture in a no-holds-barred, back and forth interaction, based upon the moderator’s experience in the field.

There was one question that was continually asked at each breakout.  “How do I get started performing litigation consulting and expert witness engagements?”  There were several great suggestions, such as:

  • Approach pro bono legal service entities in your community and offer your services
  • Contact the local bar association and make them aware of your availability
  • Reach out via social media, such as Linkedin, regarding you practice desires

The one answer that I was waiting to hear was, “If you are currently practicing in the profession as a CPA, CVA or other credentialed field, then you have already started!”

I view the practice areas of litigation consulting and expert witness services to be a high-level practice that can only be properly rendered after the culmination of numerous years of experience in your chosen field.  The litigation community consisting of attorneys, judges, clients and courts, are looking for your expert opinion and/or learned advice. 

The nuances of this line of work are particular in nature.  For example, you must view litigation consulting and expert services as two, independent types of services.  This is primarily based upon the disclosures required by each.  Therefore, you need to be careful with your communications based upon whether you are performing litigation consulting or expert witness work.

The best advice I can offer regarding how to get started is to provide my personal pathway into the field.  I am in no way indicating that this is the sole method of practicing litigation services, but it is a pathway, nonetheless.

After college, I spent a couple of years with a small firm performing bookkeeping and accounting functions for clients.  This is where I learned the bottom floor, how to post debits and credits.  My next job was with KPMG where I prepared audits, non-attest engagements and tax returns for approximately five years.

From there I joined a Grant Thornton Affiliate as an audit and non-attest manager.  After four years, I became a partner and spent another ten years with that firm.  It was during the latter part of this time period when I became enamored with litigation consulting and expert witness services.

The firm had a few attorney clients that had a need for damage calculations and a few other clients that had concerns involving internal theft.  These clients were

“…you must view litigation consulting and expert services as two, independent types of services. This is primarily based upon the disclosures required by each.”

aware of the firm’s capabilities and were extremely comfortable with our expertise.  I must admit that I was hooked!  These engagements demanded that I call upon all of my previous experience to date.  These clients had a specific need and concern regarding a singular event and were truly grateful for the services rendered.  The experience was wholly unlike my normal attest, non-attest and tax clients.  I did not have to hear, “Oh gosh, here comes the auditors again with all those questions.”  Nor did I have to suggest the same adjusting journal entries and management letter comments that I had in years past.

I then went on to focus my practice in litigation consulting and expert witness services in my subsequent employment with consulting and public accounting firms.  Eventually, I decided to form my own firms, where my letterhead and business cards proudly state that I specialize in “forensic accounting, litigation support, business valuations and expert witness testimony.”

I must admit that the profession has changed over the past 30 years during my practice in the profession.  Colleges now have courses and disciplines focusing on forensic accounting.  Consulting firms direct new college hires into this area immediately upon employment.  My only word of caution to an individual yearning for this field of endeavor is to take the time necessary to acquire some “seasoning.”  Learn the “nuts and bolts” that will provide you with a proper foundation for success.  You cannot leap to the top step of a staircase unless you climb the steps below.  You may be able to take two or three steps at a time, but only Superman can leap with a single bound.

You need to cognizant that your next litigation services engagement may be your last.  Why? Because you have advertised that you are a reliable expert on a certain subject area.  If you are unprepared or not knowledgeable when providing testimony or advice, it will become readily apparent and your career will be short lived.

Another concern is that litigation consulting services’ can be cyclical.  These engagements are unlike annuity type clients that are the annual audits you perform to meet some financing or federal regulation requirement or the annual individual income tax returns that you know you will be preparing on March 15th each year.  There is a good chance that you will be rendering these services year in and year out, if the client is pleased.  Litigation services are on a project-by-project basis.  Even though the client is pleased with your expert report and testimony, there is an extreme likelihood that this person or organization will not encounter an immediate need for an expert or litigation consulting advice once their needs are met.  Therefore, the firm that you work with will have to be sophisticated enough to endure the ebbs and flows of the practice area.  If you are self-employed, then it is matter of your ability to stretch your pocketbook until the next project emerges.

If you still have the fire in the belly to delve into this practice area, I have a few tips that can assist you. 

  1. Create a bio/CV that highlights your expertise in your desired area.  Consider it a “living document” where you should review and update on a monthly basis. 
  2. Align yourself with attorneys and their organizations.  Let’s face it. Lawyers suggest to their clients which experts to hire in litigation matters.  Attending the monthly bar association luncheons can be a valuable source for networking.  Your existing legal clients should be made aware of your expanded litigation services.
  3. There are several firms that assist in connecting experts with those seeking their specific services. These include Gerson Lehrman Group, Coleman Research, Zintro and the Roundtable Group.  There may or may not be a fee associated with joining and becoming an expert in their network.  Most of the interaction is conducted online, at your convenience.
  4. Write articles outlining your expertise.  NACVA’s “Buzz Feed” is an excellent way for you to gain experience and credibility as an author.  The process allows for technical editors to review your article before it is posted on the internet.  Articles are always in demand.

Finally, best of luck in your endeavors.

John J DeLuca, CPA, CVA, is currently the Managing Director of Succisa Virescit, LLC, an International Consulting Firm specializing in the areas of Forensic Accounting, Litigation Support, Business Valuations and Expert Witness Testimony.  Mr. DeLuca’s experience spans more than 30 years of practice. John can be reached at jdeluca@carpediemconsult.com.

The National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA) supports the users of business and intangible asset valuation services and financial forensic services, including damages determinations of all kinds and fraud detection and prevention, by training and certifying financial professionals in these disciplines.

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