Judges to BV experts: admitting weaknesses makes you stronger

“Financial experts are so important in cases,” said the Hon. Alice Blackwell (9th Judicial Circuit Court, Ariz.), who spoke at the 2012 AICPA FVS Conference in Phoenix. Economic damages cases—as well as divorce, tax, and fraud cases—“rise and fall” on an expert’s testimony, Blackwell said, which often “depends on whether juries believe you or not.”

How to convince juries of your credibility? “It’s not by talking more,” said the Hon. Richard Gabriel, who sits on the Colorado Court of Appeals. “Get to the point—juries love that.” They also appreciate consistency. “Presentation is really, really important. The bad expert is the one who looks like one person on direct examination and then [looks like] a completely different person on cross.” When the difference is striking, “you look like a hired gun to the jury,” Gabriel said, “and your credibility is gone.”

What juries (and judges) also want to hear—after experts list their qualifications, their opinion, and how they reached it—is that they used a method that made sense; they didn’t duck a “bad” issue or fact or pretend it didn’t exist. “If you are such an advocate for your opinion that you can’t admit your weaknesses, then you have no credibility,” Blackwell said. Instead, admit that you considered any weaknesses and explain how you accommodated or overcame them. “Wow,” she said, “that’s a powerful opinion.”

“And don’t be condescending,” added the Hon. Rebecca Kourlis (Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System). If confidence on direct examination turns to condescension on cross, “that will turn juries off,” Gabriel agreed.

Look for more practical tips from the AICPA judges’ panel in the January 2013 Business Valuation Update. And mark your calendar: The 2013 AICPA FVS Conference will take place next November 10-12 in Las Vegas; for more information, click here. The AICPA FVS section has also issued a call for “new and innovative” presentations and papers for the 2013 conference.