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Ownership, Specificity, and Brevity

(OSB)

The OSB technique is indispensable to establish veracity when hearing or reading questions and answers, such as deposition transcripts, expert report content and even daily conversation. You can (and should) use the OSB mnemonic in most of your public and private communications, including if you provide expert witness testimony. And, once you begin applying the technique you will find it indispensable in your forensic practice. The following describes its application.

Background

Quickly: What does the mnemonic[1] “OSB” represent and how does it benefit your forensic work? Does it represent Oriented Strand Board; Oklahoma State Bar; Order of Saint Benedict, et al.? In this instance OSB represents:

  • Ownership,
  • Specificity, and
  • Brevity.

The OSB technique is indispensable to establish veracity when hearing or reading questions and answers, such as deposition transcripts, expert report content and even daily conversation. You can (and should) use the OSB mnemonic in most of your public and private communications. And, once you begin applying the technique you will find it indispensable in your forensic practice. The following describes its application.

The Technique: Statement Analysis

The Statement Analysis technique is well known to the military and law enforcement and is best illustrated with an example. Specifically, if someone replies to your question regarding a specific calendar date by saying, “I looked at the calendar and August 23 falls on Wednesday” you can assure yourself of its veracity by applying three tests. You merely decompose the statement into its three components:

  • Ownership: Did the declaring party take “ownership” of the statement? The party did indeed take ownership based on his use of the word “I.” Therefore, the first criterion for veracity is satisfied.
  • Specificity: Was the declaring party’s statement “specific”? The party was indeed specific based on his use of the words “calendar,” “August 23,” and “Wednesday.” Therefore, the second criterion for veracity is satisfied.
  • Brevity: Was the declaring party “brief” with his response? The party’s response was brief, comprising only 11 words. Therefore, the third and final criterion for veracity is satisfied.

Real-Life Application

Now that you are armed with the basics, let’s deploy in real-life circumstances. The following excerpts are taken from actual testimony and each one is individually dissected by applying the OSB tests.

Use of the Pronoun “I”

The first example focuses on the pronoun “I”. Note that the deposition discourse occurred between an attorney and the opposing expert. The attorney asked questions which were reported in the deposition transcript as follows:

  • Attorney: When did you receive your CPA certificate?
  • Expert: I received my CPA certificate in January 1991.

Now, ask yourself:

  • Did the expert take “ownership”? Answer: Yes.
  • Was the expert “specific”? Answer: Yes.
  • Was the expert’s answer “brief”? Answer: Yes.

Next, the attorney asked:

  • Attorney: When did you first begin your forensic training?
  • Expert: Began my forensic training about five years ago.

Now, ask yourself:

  • Did the expert take “ownership”? Answer: No. Note that the answer is not complete and his ownership was indirect, i.e., “Began my…”
  • Was the expert “specific”? Answer: No. His answer was vague, i.e., “…about five years ago.”
  • Was the expert’s answer “brief”? Answer: Yes, however his answer not a complete sentence.

In aggregate, then the deponent was truthful with his first answer but not truthful with his second answer.

Noun Change

The next example focuses on a noun change during deposition discourse between an attorney and the opposing expert.

The attorney asked questions which were reported in the deposition transcript as follows:

Expert: After referring to “my client” or “Mr. Smith” several times during trial testimony, note the noun change in the following exchange.

  • Attorney: Do you think Mr. Smith took the money?
  • Expert: There is no way Bill took that money.

Now, ask yourself:

  • Did the expert take “ownership”? Answer: No. He merely attributed innocence to his client in lieu of offering substantiating evidence.
  • Was the expert “specific”? Answer: No. His answer did not respond to the questioned posited and was focused on his client’s presumed innocence.
  • Was the expert’s answer “brief”? Answer: Yes, but did not directly respond to the question.

In aggregate, the deponent did not answer the questions asked, diverted from the subject, and betrayed his lack of independence.

Verb Tense

The next example focuses on verb tense during deposition discourse between an attorney and the opposing expert.

The attorney asked questions which were reported in the deposition transcript as follows:

  • Expert in Deposition: Reconciling the May 2008 bank statement showed no problems.
  • Expert at Trial: I reconciled the May 2008 bank statement and it showed no problems.

Now, ask yourself regarding his deposition testimony:

  • Did the expert take “ownership”? 1st Answer: No. He indirectly referenced the reconciliation and his statement was not a complete sentence.
  • Was the expert “specific”? 1st Answer: Possibly. His answer, i.e., “…it showed no problems” could have been more specific. For example, he could have stated that 37 bank statements were reconciled, et al.
  • Was the expert’s answer “brief”? 1st Answer: Yes.

In aggregate the responses suggest a degree of uncertainty in the expert’s answers.

Now, ask yourself regarding his trial testimony:

  • Did the expert take “ownership”? 2nd Answer: Yes. He specifically stated the he “…reconciled the May 2008 bank statement and it showed no problems.”
  • Was the expert “specific”? 2nd Answer: Yes. He answered the question specifically and added “…it showed no problems.”
  • Was the expert’s answer “brief”? 2nd Answer: Yes, although he was likely reinforcing his answer based upon his reconciliation of the bank statement that his staff had previously done.

Conclusion

The OSB technique can be deployed in a wide range of applications ranging from personal conversations to formal reports. It is simple yet powerful and you can put it into practice immediately when applied to complex or simple matters.

[1] \ni-ˈmä-nik: assisting or intended to assist memory. To distinguish “principal” from “principle” use the mnemonic aid “the principal is your pal.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mnemonic


Darrell D. Dorrell, CPA, ABV, MBA, ASA, CVA, CMA, CFF, is principal at Financial Forensics, a Lake Oswego, OR firm with a focus on financial forensics and business valuations. He is a forensic accountant specializing in the determination, investigation, restatement, analysis, interpretation, forecasting, feasibility, translation, and visualization of complex financial and operational data. Mr. Dorrell has served as an expert witness/consultant in more than 500 matters. Typically, he applies such expertise within various Federal and state courts in connection with complex forensic accounting, civil litigation, criminal investigation, valuation, and troubled businesses. The matters include alter ego, anti-trust, bankruptcy, breach of contract, estate and gift taxes family law, fraud, fraudulent conveyance/transfer intellectual property, lost profits, patent, solvency/insolvency, trademark, trade dress, and trade secrets, among others.

Mr. Dorrell can be contacted at (503) 636-7999 or by e-mail to darrelld@financialforensics.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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