Jazzin’ Up the Jargon

One of the most challenging aspects of being a financial expert witness is presentation of complex analysis to an audience unfamiliar with the subject matter and prone to distraction, such as judges and juries.  Almost nothing puts a trier of fact to sleep faster than a bunch of numbers. Numbers are more effective than most sleeping pills.  Think about it—in addition to being pulled away from their daily routines, jurors must contend with being shuffled from room to room, sharing meals with complete strangers, learning legalese and then sometimes listen to lengthy testimony by an accountant, of all things.

Have mercy on these poor souls.

Litigation is serious business, but there is no law against creative exhibits.  These may be in the form of innovative, computerized tools, but old-fashioned, less technical options can also be effective.

Fortunately, many courtrooms in Georgia are now equipped with computerized displays and with easy connection to laptops or USB devices.  This means that, with a little advance preparation, an expert can use colorful graphs, PowerPoint presentations, and other computerized techniques to present financial analysis. 

Enlarged trial exhibits are also very effective, especially with a jury.  There is some out-of-pocket cost involved but, preparation of large trial exhibits is much easier and less expensive than it used to be, because of advances in technology and availability of services.  In one case where a perpetrator had conned an elderly man out of a substantial sum of money, the expert tackled the formidable task of breaking down the complicated scheme into an exhibit that a jury could readily grasp. Ultimately, the expert condensed many pages of analysis into one large exhibit.  At the top of the display, green dollar bills were pictured falling into a large funnel. At the bottom of the funnel were pictures of a house, a car, a yacht and a few other large assets that the con man bought with the funds that he stole.

Live demonstrations are also very powerful.  They are frequently used to re-enact automobile accidents, etc. but they can also work for financial presentations.  In a recent civil trial, the expert demonstrated the concept of co-mingling funds by using spices and sprinkles, paper muffin cups, and red plastic beverage cups.  With those simple props and a couple of cardboard lids, she was able to show the flow of money from known sources of funds, co-mingling of assets in a particular account, and then distribution of the co-mingled funds to other known accounts, with only a few lost sprinkles along the way.

Half of a financial expert’s job is doing the analysis.  The other half is communicating the work to a judge or jury in a way that is helpful to them in rendering their decision.  That’s not possible if they are sleeping.  Demonstrative exhibits are critical to the process.  They must be accurate, clear, interesting, and simple. Stick to the KISS principle, and don’t’ forget—it’s okay to have fun, even if it is serious business.

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IAG Forensics

IAG Forensics & Valuation is a CPA firm that specializes in forensic accounting, fraud investigation, business valuation and litigation support.

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