The Forensic Accounting Deskbook

As a family law attorney and litigator, I’ve repeatedly engaged the services of forensic accountants as expert witnesses and as professional consultants in high asset cases. Like most of my attorney peers, I’m not an accountant, and until I read Miles Mason’s book cover to cover, I was perfectly happy to be in the dark when it came to arcane concepts like ERISA law, QDROs and vertical analysis.

After reading The Forensic Accounting Deskbook, Second Edition, I’ve learned how to maximize my forensic expert’s time and effort. Published by the ABA Family Law Section, Mason’s book is a step-by-step guide to developing a litigation strategy and collecting crucial financial evidence that could make or break your case. I should also mention that it’s an easy read, peppered with humor and practicalities that will set even the most math-adverse attorney at ease.

The elegance of Mason’s approach is evident in the way he weaves together critical litigation strategy with practical advice for achieving the desired result. Mason starts the conversation with the vetting process, credentialing, and a description of the precise function of the forensic accountant for the engagement agreement. I appreciate that Mason takes into account the client’s perspective and offers practical advice for helping your client understand why a forensic expert is a necessary expense. In divorce, the party’s case for property division or alimony frequently hinges on financial analysis and expert witness testimony. Both direct and cross examination of the parties and the opposing side’s expert require substantial preparation and planning, and Mason gives the reader a road map of how to prepare for both.

Mason draws the reader into the art of forensic accountancy and the unique role of these experts in divorce proceedings, whether it be asset valuation, income determination, lifestyle analysis, business valuation, deferred compensation analysis or other purpose. Dividing a complex subject into digestible bites, Mason describes the various reasons for financial examination (e.g., spouse’s spending exceeds disclosed earnings), then explains which accounting approaches can be relied on to ferret out an accurate valuation of assets and income (e.g., lifestyle analysis). True to the title’s promise, the practitioner can build a solid foundation for financial investigation and analysis, one chapter at a time.   

By way of example, before introducing or challenging forensic expert testimony, review Mason’s chapter on “Methodologies, Investigation, and Techniques.” Collected data and the accounting method applied to it, as well as the witness’s credentials, impact the weight of the expert’s testimony and final analysis. All trial lawyers love a good war story, and Mason’s case summaries do not disappoint.  They help illustrate, by application, the pros and cons of various accounting methods, as well as the pitfalls attorneys and their clients can suffer in court if they are not adequately prepared. 

Another chapter covers “Asset Identification, Classification, and Valuation — From Simple to Complex,” and it can often be complex in a high asset divorce. What red flags indicate concealed assets or undisclosed income? The author examines valuation of deferred compensation in its many forms and traces the marital portion thereof — deferred pension benefits, stock options, perquisites, qualified and nonqualified plans, and so on. In the past, I’ve left the details of this sort of analysis up to my forensic accountant, but after reading Mason’s book, I trust my understanding of the various financial instruments and feel confident discussing options for valuation with both my forensic accountant and my client.

When it comes to case preparation, I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive, and Mason’s book has practical suggestions galore for organizing your case for settlement and trial. In particular, his suggestion that every family law attorney needs a set of discovery for opposing parties who are employees and a separate set for those who are self-employed helped me focus my discovery on the documents that I really need. His subpoena forms for self-employed parties alone are worth the price of admission.  Mason’s strategy for classifying financial evidence based on the quadrants of income, expenses and credibility has forever influenced the way I prepare trial exhibits and testimony.

A family law attorney and C.P.A., Mason has more than two decades of litigation experience in divorce and child custody. He offers invaluable advice on avoiding pitfalls while obtaining the greatest benefit from engaging forensic accountants. Mason pours his Tennessee humor and strategic insight into every page, serving up everything the family law practitioner should know before engaging a forensic accountant as a consulting expert or testifying expert in the case. The book is a must-read for every family law attorney and an essential addition to every family law firm’s reference library.

ANNE HAMER practices family law in Nashville and Memphis.  She is a 1996 graduate of New York University School of Law and obtained her undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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