You may have hired an expert financial witness and not known it...

Chris Mercer (Mercer Capital, Memphis) and David Adams (Adams Capital, Atlanta), two leading business valuation experts, spoke to the Southern Federal Tax Institute in Atlanta last week. Joining them were David Aughtry and Hale Sheppard, both local tax litigation and planning attorneys with Chamberlain Hrdlicka.

“The lawyers’ main theme was that we are all likely to be testifying one day, as financial experts or fact witnesses,” Mercer reports. The attorneys also emphasized that litigation experts, in particular, are subject to rigorous examination regarding their qualifications and credentials, their experience in the specific industry, and their prior courtroom testimony. Even if appraisers deliberately choose a non-adversarial practice, sooner or later, every expert report will receive the same heightened scrutiny—by the IRS examiner, the divorcing spouse or disgruntled employee—so Aughtry likes to subject his expert witnesses to the toughest possible cross-examination. “I can attest to that particular practice of his!” Mercer says.

Mercer and Adams each worked up a “Top 5” list of how business appraisers can work with lawyers. First, be as selective with your lawyers as they are with you. “When experts work on a case, they are putting their personal and firm reputations in the lawyers’ hands,” Mercer says. “Inexperienced litigators can make their experts look really bad.” Once retained, try talking to the opposing expert, Adams says. “If appraisers can’t agree on a final conclusion, they can at least coordinate methodology and data gathering, stipulate to key assumptions, and indentify/quantify any remaining areas of disagreement.” When the parties see a narrower range of opposition, they may more readily reach settlement.

For all ten best practice tips—and a complete overview of what the top litigators want and expect from their financial experts (from BVR’s recent Divorce Summit in Chicago), be sure to read the December 2009 Business Valuation Update™.