As Chicago business, shareholder rights and commercial law litigators, we frequently handle cases involving allegations of business fraud or financial mismanagement, often as part of complex business dispute, that require significant expertise in financial issues. When handling a divorce involving a family business or other closely held company, we also sometimes find we need an expert’s help properly valuing the business, so we can help our clients get the most equitable possible distribution of marital property.
Our Chicago, Oak Brook, Wheaton and Naperville business trial attorneys have handled many complex business and commecial law litigation matters which have involved presenting or cross-examining accounting witnesses.
While we’re confident in our legal skills, these situations call for specialized financial skills. To give our clients the best possible representation in business, shareholder and other commercial disputes, we sometimes retain a forensic accountant or fraud examiner. Both of these jobs are twofold: They help attorneys and their clients understand the complex financial aspects of their cases, and they may also be called to testify as expert witnesses. A forensic accountant’s job is to examine a person or corporation’s accounts “cold,” from the outside; the subject isn’t generally expected to cooperate. Similarly, a fraud examiner delves deep into a company’s finances, looking for the source of anything that seems inconsistent or suspicious. Both can serve as expert witnesses who help establish the value of a business or testify to the existence of fraud.
The goal for both forensic accountants and fraud examiners is to make sure the other side of the case is being completely truthful about its income and accounting practices. As you might imagine, this is a frequent concern in divorces involving a spouse who’s part of a small or closely held business, which may need to be properly valued for the divorce. The company may also need to be investigated when the owning spouse is believed to be hiding assets. However, this concern also comes up in business disputes, such as breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits. When minority shareholders believe the majority is withholding important financial information, using a forensic accountant or fraud examiner may be the most reliable way to discover and prove the truth.
This practice is relatively recent but growing; a simple Web search turns up many accountants and examiners who regularly serve as expert witnesses. Two legal journals serving our Midwestern neighbors, The Wisconsin Law Journal and Michigan Lawyers Weekly, offer online articles on the subject for lawyers who want to learn more.