“What was your biggest mistake—and how did you recover?” That was one of the “hardball” questions thrown to the panel at the AICPA BV conference in Vegas. Categorically, “the worst thing is an unexpected error that you didn’t plan for,” said Jay Fishman (Financial Research Associates). “We’re in the confidence business,” he said, and mistakes “can make you look like a fool.” But don’t try to deny them. “An expert on another case admitted he made a mistake with a multiple,” said moderator Jim Hitchner. His bigger mistake: “When asked if it changed his value, he said, ‘No.’ Take the punch,” Hitchner added. “An error is an error.” It will affect your credibility but denying it could affect your whole case—or, as Fishman wryly observed, “There’s a world of difference between taking a punch and getting knocked out.”
Beware when opposing counsel asks if you have a calculator. In a litigation setting, “mistakes are hard to recover from,” said Harold Martin (Keiter Stephens), who moderated a separate AICPA panel on expert witnesses. “Every accountant has made accounting errors,” said panelist Michael Crain (Financial Valuation Group). “The best thing is to admit it, don’t evade it.” Just know that when opposing counsel first asks you to attest to the accuracy of your report—and then asks you to get out your calculator, that a mistake is coming, and the question will be akin to something like, “when did you stop beating your wife?” said attorney Bill Dolan (Jones Day). Once you’ve admitted the error, you can expect questions such as, “your report is wrong, isn’t it?” or “how many other errors do you have in your report?” Dolan’s advice: “Whatever you do, don’t say you have no other mistakes,” because “you will have the other [errors] handed to you on a platter, and the jury won’t trust another thing you say.” Better to simply answer, “none that I know of,” and move on.