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A forensic accountant in Washington DC

Posted by Chris Westworth on 28 October 2016

Notes from a Conference - a forensic accountant on the prowl in Washington DC

Attending the International Bar Association's Conference in Washington was fascinating. Washington itself provided a wealth of cultural, artistic and historic sights and provided a real insight into a self-confident land of opportunity, the America that was able to create such monuments. Watching the first Clinton/Trump debate in a bar in New York just after the conference unfortunately showed a very different picture.

Networking at the conference was active and vigorous amongst lawyers and associated professions so business cards disappeared quickly. Cocktail parties were in embassies, private clubs, firms' offices, the International Monetary Fund headquarters building and various galleries and museums (most prefixed "Smithsonian").

Travel around DC on the Metro between conference venues and networking events was effective; cabs were less so, as various dignitaries, including our very own PM, were in town.

But there is far more to an IBA conference than the networking and the social whirl. As a non-lawyer (albeit with an antedeluvian law degree before becoming a chartered accountant) and so with no particular legal specialism there was a plethora of interesting sounding sessions I could have dipped into. With some regret I eschewed sessions dealing with social justice and the rule of law and focussed on more corporate topics where I was most likely meet useful contacts and pursue the networking opportunities that were a significant part of the reason for being there.

I found the Dispute Resolution show case "Effective advocacy for all modes of dispute resolution" particularly interesting. This used a case study to compare the difference in the approaches taken in litigation, arbitration and mediation.  As an experienced expert witness now also studying to be an arbitrator, I was able to listen to debate about areas with which I had some familiarity from a different stand point.

As an expert, once in the box, it is very important to me that counsel is fully knowledgeable about not only the matter but my material and likely examination questions. I may well have to agree with the other side's counsel's propositions in cross examination because the hypothesis put to me is true, even if the extended direction of his or her reasoning does not accord with my views. To know that I can rely on questions in reply to tease out my position avoids the temptation to argue with the cross examiner. Whilst recognising that a claim may hang as much or more on arguments of nexus and loss, expert evidence given with no hint of partiality must be important.

"Governance during the corporate crisis", again built around a case study, resonated with a number of current instances of financial misstatement and I was able to contribute some insights to the discussion from my experiences as a non-executive director.

As an accountant and sometimes director, my experience of corporate governance issues was different from that of the lawyers.  In my experience, in practice, a board and management will often take action in response to a matter before all the legal safeguards can be put in place.  There is a necessary first step of ascertaining the matter and its nature and maintaining confidentiality. In doing so boards and management need to be very alert to a range of responsibilities from ensuring that staff's rights are met to ensuring that there is prompt market disclosure when it is needed. Only once those very preliminary steps are taken will it be possible to know whether in house counsel can carry the matter or independence and skill sets requires the appointment of external lawyers. This may cause some loss of privilege but often speed of disclosure is essential and if external counsel are being used some preliminary facts are essential to that briefing.

I was fascinated to compare my accountant/expert witness response to each of the case studies with that taken by the lawyers.  I eagerly anticipate learning more at the Sydney Conference next year.
Author:Chris Westworth
Tags:Governanceexpert witnessdispute resolutionLitigation Support

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