When you first engage with an attorney, you want to establish yourself as a confident, competent expert in your field. The very first phone call is the foundation of the relationship you’ll have with the attorney and with the case. In order to make the right sort of impression on an attorney, you’ll want to remember a few key strategies.
The Modus Operandi
Firstly, avoid selling yourself. You want to sell your experience, not your personality. While some attorneys may respond to a sales-pitch-type call, most are going to be more impressed with you if you come across as someone who actually knows what they’re doing.
Secondly, keep your focus on the details of the case. Once again, this isn’t about you. It’s about the situation at hand, the attorney you could be working with, and the client you’re hoping to land. Talking through the case looks good on your end: it shows that you’re invested in your work and that you understand what’s going on. Furthermore, it will help you determine if this particular divorce is a good case for you.
Finally- and these are very important- is making sure that the financial backing of the client is suitable for you, that there are no conflicts of interest between you and the attorney or client, that the expectations of the client and attorney are within the scope of your expertise, and that you will be of value to the case. Of course, you will be. You’re a CPA for a reason; you couldn’t have gotten this far without being good at what you do. However, establishing what your role will be will help both you, the hiring attorney, and the client to feel secure in your partnership.
The Power of Recommendations
If there’s some discrepancy with any of the above, you should probably decline the case. This does NOT mean simply waving the attorney away. Rather, you should do your best to refer the attorney to a different expert who might be better suited to this particular divorce case. Should your referral prove to be of value to the case, then you’ve established yourself as reliable and trustworthy, and that attorney is likely to call upon you again for future matters.
Conflicts of Interest
The aforementioned conflicts of interest are important to understand. Should you have any kind of relationship, be it professional or personal, with someone involved in the case (one of the spouses, the attorney, etc.), you should decline the case, as that relationship could impair your objectivity and cause you to err in your judgments. Stay away from those cases!
Varieties of Engagement
There are several types of engagement available to you as an expert, each presenting unique opportunities and challenges. They are:
The expert in this position can be appointed through a couple of different scenarios. One scenario involves the expert being appointed through agreement by both parties of the divorce, such as in a situation where they decide that neither of them wish to field the cost of their own expert. The neutral expert can also be assigned by the court itself, such as if the divorcing couple’s finances are highly complex. This expert works primarily on tasks such as parsing and explaining the intricacies of the case to the court.
Consultant to Attorney
This expert works for an attorney in consulting, rather than testifying. This sort of arrangement allows for a privileged relationship between attorney and accountant, and as such, the accountant cannot be called upon by the opposite attorney to disclose confidential information. What is said between the attorney and the accountant remains between them.
This is an accountant who understands the ins and outs of the case and is called upon to testify. It’s possible to be initially hired as a consultant and later asked to switch gears into the expert witness role. Be cautious with this one: in testifying, you may lose your privileged relationship with the attorney, and be compelled to give up previously confidential information.
As noted above, it’s critical that you be able to discern things such as potential conflicts of interest, the client’s ability and limitations regarding pay, and their expectations of your work. You need to be on the same page as they are on all these things if you want to make the casework.
Understanding the case and what the attorney is looking for from you is necessary. Keep your eyes open and make sure that each case you take on is a good fit for you and your practice, lest you fall into a case that you’re not going to get paid for, that you’re not staffed to handle, or that you’re not going to be able to maintain objectivity with. Stay sharp!