Forensic and Litigation Accountant  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotForensic accountants combine number crunching with detective work. They investigate crimes that can be discovered by examining financial records. These include crimes such as check and credit card fraud, money laundering, extortion, mail and insurance fraud, and telemarketing fraud.

dotForensic accountants often testify in court regarding their findings. For this reason they are sometimes called litigation accountants. They may be the expert witnesses that determine the outcome of a court case.

"A forensic accountant is also a litigation accountant in that the work of a forensic accountant... might be put in front of some sort of tribunal or court of law," says Douglas Kalesnikoff, a forensic accountant.

"As a result, we have to prepare our work in that sort of manner, being objective and independent and be ready to testify to our findings."

dotThese specialists use their accounting knowledge to investigate wrongdoing or financial irregularities -- not all of which end up in court. "As it turns out, many of the cases and matters don't go to trial for various reasons," says Kalesnikoff.

"Maybe there's in a criminal matter a guilty plea, or in a civil matter there might be a settlement before it reaches trial. But you're always preparing to go to trial and to be the expert witness in the area that you're investigating."

dotAccountants work in regular office settings. They may work in their own offices or travel to a client's place of business to do their work. Self-employed accountants may work at home.

Most large accounting firms, and some smaller ones, have forensic accounting divisions. Some firms specialize in forensic accounting. They have a definite niche because big accounting firms often find themselves in conflict of interest and need an outsider to resolve a problem.

Forensic accountants need to have a knack with numbers and a thick skin. There's often a lot of negative feelings when a forensic accountant is called in to examine a company's books.

"Often you're dealing with conflict situations," says Kalesnikoff. "You're dealing with individuals who don't like what you're doing, who will attempt to discredit you, will be hard to deal with, may be guarded, may be suspicious of you, [and] maybe just dislike what you're doing because you might be uncovering something."

At a Glance

Investigate white-collar crime

  • These experts often have to testify in court
  • A knack for numbers and a thick skin are mandatory
  • A degree and years of experience are needed for this specialty