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Describe the Role of a Forensic Accountant in a Courtroom Environment

by Erika Winston

When courtroom professionals need an expert to explain difficult financial concepts, they retain forensic accountants to assist them. As a forensic accountant, you are contracted by attorneys, insurance agencies and law enforcement officers to assist with analysis of various financial facts. Since you routinely make courtroom presentations, reliable professional judgment and excellent communication skills are essential.

Crunching Numbers

Forensic accountants gather financial information to assist one side or the other in a litigation matter. The accountant looks at existing evidence for completeness and accuracy. In criminal matters, you review financial records for proof of theft or fraud. Divorce cases may require you to recreate missing records or search for hidden assets. In personal injury matters, forensic accountants are retained by insurance agencies to calculate appropriate economic damages for the victim. You also assist the court in protecting disputed assets until the legal matter is resolved and distributions are completed.

Performing Your Analysis

Once the financial documents are gathered, you must analyze them for information that is relevant to the case. Maintain communication with the lawyers and officers to ensure that you understand exactly what information they are seeking. Analyze all gathered documents by performing necessary calculations and comparisons. Once your analysis is complete, use your expertise as an accountant to make professional conclusions.

Preparing for Court

Forensic accountants create exhibits to enhance their courtroom presentation. The accountant is there to make sense of complex financial matters that may not be obvious to laypeople or other court representatives. Find a way to communicate your findings in a manner that will be easily understood by the judge or a jury. According to Alan Zysman's article "Forensic Accounting Demystified," forensic accountants use spreadsheets, graphs and charts to present findings in court. You also should be prepared to discuss the process used in developing your conclusions, as well as a summary of your professional background. You must prepare for your court appearance in order to present your information in a clear and concise manner.

The Courtroom Presentation

The forensic accountant must have extensive communication skills in order to testify in court. The attorney who retained you will advise you about when and where to arrive for court. Once there, you will likely be separated from the courtroom until it is time for your testimony. When you are called to testify, you will be asked to take an oath. Your attorney will then ask you questions about the information you reviewed, your analysis and your conclusions. Use the exhibits that you created to explain any difficult concepts. Remember that you are speaking to people who likely have no accounting background, so you need to present your information in a manner that will be understood. When your lawyer is done questioning you, you will be questioned by the opposing counsel. Once your testimony is completed, you will be excused from the courtroom.

About the Author

Erika Winston is a Washington, D.C.-based writer, with more than 15 years of writing experience. Her articles have appeared in such magazines as Imara, Corporate Colors E-zine and Enterprise Virginia. She holds a Juris Doctor degree from Regent University and a Masters in public policy from New England College.

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