When being retained as an expert witness, generally the other side tries to undermine your credentials or experience in order to either discredit your answers or, in extremes, not allow your testimony at all. The opposing side also tries to undermine one’s credibility by investigating whether you’re always a plaintiff or defendant side witness – or if you only represent creditors and not debtors. It’s a game that we’ve all seen on Law and Order or Perry Mason.
For my first case as an expert witness, I was hired to testify to the feasibility of a cash collateral order in a bankruptcy case. As I took the stand my lawyer introduced me and gave my background.
Now, I knew what I was talking about, but we were all still confident that the other side was going to absolutely skewer me. It’s not that I had a shady past, but because 25 years ago I’d only done a few turnarounds. The question was, Was I really an expert at this point?
Now I’m The Turnaround Authority and I have the experience to prove it, but back then, well, there just wasn’t enough gray hair on my head yet.
The opposing counsel introduced herself to me as she prepared to elaborate on my experience, or supposed lack thereof. However, as soon as she called me “Mr. Katz,” the federal judge took notice, looked down at me from the bench over the rim of his glasses and said, “Katz? Are you related to Israel Katz?”
I replied, “Yes, your honor. He’s my father.”
At which point the old judge bellowed jovially, “How’s old Israel doing? Did you know that in 1967 your father was head of the Democratic Party in Dekalb County, and in the late 40s he filed the first Chapter 11 case in this district? I know him well but haven’t seen him in a long time. Please give ol’ Israel my regards.” Then turning to the opposing counsel, who had reared back on her haunches, ready to pounce, said, “Oh, sorry, counsel. It’s your witness – please proceed.”
Having been totally flustered but regaining her composure and straightening up, she answered, “No questions, your honor. Mr. Katz is an acceptable witness.”
And that’s how I got through my first case as an expert witness without any trouble. Sometimes it’s not just what you know but who you know that counts.
Now, with my history of workouts I don’t ever worry what the opposing counsel will say – indeed, in a recent case the lawyer already knew me and asked why my side would “bring out the big guns when a pea-shooter would do” – but back then this was a lucky break.
I’m even proud to say that after this case I became friendly with the opposing counsel who has since retained me for a number of client cases over the past twenty or so years.
Have you ever been to court over business issues? What were your experiences?