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Defining the Role of the Expert

2 Apr 2024 11:48 AM | Anonymous

By: Zach Petersen of Marcum | AAML NJ Gold Sponsor

Imagine you are the owner of a famous and well-respected restaurant. In your employ are master chefs and culinary experts covering a range of different backgrounds and techniques. Among them are a saucier, creating various sauces used throughout the menu, and a pasta chef, responsible for imagining and delivering some of the menu’s entrees. There is also a pastry chef and a chocolatier, together creating beautiful and imaginative desserts. And, of course, you have a sommelier to select the perfect wines to pair with each dish.

Each night, the kitchen is tasked with providing a top-notch experience to the guests, with a menu that changes regularly. Every dish is thoughtful and well-executed. Each specialist works together to build a memorable experience and must know their role in relation to each other to deliver excellence.

Now imagine each dining experience is its own case, and you, as the owner, are the attorney responsible for delivering excellence to your customers (clients). You must direct your team and understand the capabilities and limitations of each member to produce an effective and cohesive approach.

Likewise, litigation can require several different experts in different fields to build the arguments necessary to prevail. Experts are necessary to review the facts, parse the technical requirements in their field, and provide an analysis or opinion based on their work. A chocolatier will not be qualified to present wine pairings for the guests in the same way that a financial expert cannot opine on the adequacy of manufacturing safeguards. Generally, professional standards expressly prohibit opinions on matters outside the expert’s scope. Although the expert may have a general understanding of how effective manufacturing safeguards can reduce overall risk to a business, they cannot be expected to deliver an opinion on what policies, procedures, and equipment are considered effective.

Depending on the facts of the case, much like our imaginary kitchen, several different experts may be needed to provide analyses within their specialties to provide a comprehensive and effective service to the client. Although a financial expert can certainly serve as your only expert if all relevant issues fall within the scope of that individual’s field of expertise, you should still consider carefully. Some issues may seem like concepts on which your expert can provide an opinion, but sometimes, they fall outside that scope of expertise or veer into legal determinations.

It is also vital that each expert is informed of their specific role for what they are being asked to do, even if the task is already within their field of expertise. If the kitchen has a theme for the evening, such as “An Evening in Tokyo," you probably wouldn’t want your pasta chef delivering authentic German spaetzle that night. Similarly, although a valuation expert can provide the value of a business under the fair market value standard, complete with a formalized report, if the jurisdiction governing the dispute only allows the use of the fair value standard or if valuation schedules would have sufficed for settlement purposes, the expert will have ultimately spent extra time developing valuation discounts or writing a report, to provide a conclusion of value that would not be appropriate for the client’s needs.

Experts, particularly financial experts, are a powerful tool for litigants and their attorneys. However, we, as experts, must be careful in providing opinions that are within the realm of our expertise. It is required, both from a legal standpoint and from the rules set forth by the associations we are members of. It is essential that experts, attorneys, and clients are all on the same page regarding what we can and cannot address. Being as specific as possible helps ensure our work is unambiguous, appropriate for the client's needs, and within the confines of our expertise and professional requirements.

So, next time you engage an expert or are engaged as an expert, make sure the expectations are clear to all parties, both verbally and in an engagement letter, as to what the expert is being asked to do. You’ll find better client outcomes and just might save everyone a headache.


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