Watching the summer Olympics rates high on my list of favorite pastimes. As I was looking forward to this year’s games, I remembered the 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball Dream Team: Jordan, Johnson, Bird, and Barkley – just to name a few. What I love about that year’s team is that it consisted of the “greats,” the absolute best-of-the-best. These players dominated their respective courts and gained the admiration of fans throughout the U.S. Yet when they played the first game of the Olympic season that year, the team was just that – a team. It wasn’t a group standing only on the shoulders of a talented Point Guard or five stars each competing for the spotlight on the court; they were all important. Each individual player brought unique traits and unmatched skills to the court, but when all the talent and determination focused on the common goal – the gold medal – they were virtually unstoppable.
I often receive phone calls where the person on the other end expresses, sometimes frantically, their financially complicated, paper-filled, and litigation-heavy problem. Usually this type of problem is referred to as a “mess.” While we, Workman Forensics, specialize in cleaning up these types of messes, I am always amazed with the problems, most of which I feel could have been avoided by having the right team of people on board and the right plan in place from the start. To better illustrate this thought, I’ll explain through the following stories.
The Right Combination at the Right Time
Transition and changes were a common occurrence for ABC Company, or so it appeared that way. Multiple members resigned from the Board, and even the CFO decided it was his time to retire. Following the many leadership changes, the new CFO, Mark, spent numerous hours during his first few weeks of employment sorting through records and reconciling the books. After reviewing the accounting records for several days, Mark knew something was not right. There were checks in the check register that were not on the printed bank statements – checks payable to the former CFO. Not knowing how many people were in on the scheme, Mark showed the in-house counsel his concerns. In-house counsel confirmed there was definitely an issue, and an attorney specializing in corporate litigation was hired. Mark revealed all of his findings to the attorney, and without skipping a beat, the attorney called a professional: a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and forensic accountant. The CFE was on the scene the next morning and began to investigate the matter. Throughout the investigation, the CFE performed interviews, properly obtained evidence, established a chain of custody, and began intensive analysis. By the end of one year, all civil litigation was complete, the former CFO was prosecuted, new fraud prevention procedures were in place, and the ABC Company triumphantly moved forward.
This story’s greatest strength lies in the adequacy and strategic planning of the attorney. This attorney realized the effectiveness and efficiencies in hiring a specialist at the first mention of the type of problem.
An Expert is an Expert Which Makes Him an Expert
Tim had faithfully worked for XYZ Company for the past twenty years. His grandiose retirement plans came to a screeching halt when he received a phone call from XYZ’s attorney explaining that Tim had been placed on administrative leave. At this point, Tim knew the embezzlement had been discovered. The attorney began handling the employee issues from an employment law angle, including an official termination and protective order, while XYZ’s controller looked into the details of the scheme. The controller quickly realized the details of the case were more complicated than originally thought. Due to time constraints, work load, and lack of required knowledge, the controller could not handle the case on his own in tandem with his other duties. A colleague suggested that a fraud examiner be brought in to help. Upon examination of the evidence, the fraud examiner identified a clear pattern of account lapping. Despite his solid findings, many circumstances hindered the investigation, including an unresponsive Tim. The greatest source of information, the subject himself, was no longer accessible to provide information to assist the examiner.
After months and months of investigating and tracing funds through various bank accounts, the embezzlement was finally outlined and a loss determined, but the fraud examiner always wondered, what if? What if the he had been called immediately? Could he have interviewed the subject before criminal charges were looming? For this particular case, the answers to those questions will never be known.
Economics courses in undergraduate and graduate school definitely do not make me an economics expert, so the following is based on my observations as a consumer and intensive studies as a business owner. In today’s economic environment:
- Efficiency is vital;
- Specialization thrives;
- Duplication of efforts is despised
The consumer wants the highest quality product or service at the lowest possible cost. The niche individuals or businesses who immerse themselves in industry knowledge uncover the patterns and systems necessary to produce high quality service at a competitive price.
What is a Litigation Team?
Each professional of the litigation team contributes invaluable skills, talents, and abilities. Just as a basketball team is weak without a Center or Point Guard or any of the five positions, a litigation team is weak without its professionals. While the stories above focus on financial fraud situations, this philosophy holds true with other professions and cases as well. From forensic sciences, to medical experts, to economic damages experts, and so forth, these professionals have the ability to not only make an attorney’s job less complicated but also contribute to the team’s cumulative success by providing their particular brand of knowledge and expertise.
Timing is everything
While a fraud investigator may not realize what an economic damages expert requires, or an attorney may not realize what data a forensic accountant needs from discovery, efficiencies are built by bringing the team together from the beginning, or at the very least, as soon as the need arises. For example, the economic damages expert can inform the fraud investigator of the data needed in advance so the fraud investigator can make sure to collect the proper evidence and to track the chain of custody. As the idiom goes, “kill two birds with one stone.” These efficiencies lead to positive client satisfaction, and once again, a winning team.
Communication is vital
If the Point Guard isn’t clear with his team about the play they are about to run, everyone tries hard to make a basket, but it’s messy and oftentimes futile. The same concept applies to the litigation team. If the right people are in the room, but no one communicates the plan or strategy to help the client, everyone will give their best, but in the end it might not be enough.
Are there cases piling up in need of an expert? Has a client called with a messy problem, and they are unsure where to start? Call a specialist or expert from the beginning. Get the team together. Draw up the strategic plan on the white board. Then go win the game.