A Bright Spot: CPAs Who Understand Litigation

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Wall Street's troubles may lead to demand for accountants focused on litigation and legal issues.

Although most accountants at Wall Street firms are suffering like everyone else - from rampant speculation about wider layoffs and narrower bonuses, if nothing else - at least those in one specialty may do pretty well: Those with legal and litigation expertise.

In fact, all of the sub-prime mortgage problems faced by Wall Street may benefit CPA litigation specialists, notes Kevin Clancy, a partner in the business investigation services group of J.H. Cohn LLP's Edison, N.J., office. "The need for litigation specialists will always remain, and with the recent happenings in the credit market, I anticipate the need for investigative work related to determining what led to the recent downturn," he says.

On top of the shakeups underway in the financial business, what some observers see as the growing litigiousness of business in general and the number of banks, investment companies and CPA firms in the New York and New Jersey region has raised demand for the area's litigation specialists. Clancy also attributes the uptick in litigation consulting to factors including recent corporate scandals, large corporate financial implosions and, of course, Sarbanes-Oxley.

"Forensic accounting and litigation work are very specialized fields and for that reason, it can be lucrative," he notes.

Many CPAs who serve as litigation experts are former internal auditors, Clancy say. Having an understanding of the legal environment is critical, and some professionals have law enforcement experience or law degrees. Many who are interested in upward mobility seek professional designations, such as certified fraud examiner. Says Clancy: "This path is an excellent option for professionals to apply their existing expertise and background while still making a career move."

Experience Required

Considering the background necessary, this isn't a field for those accounting grads fresh out of college. Even with the forensic accounting programs at some universities, this is a path that requires significant time put in at a firm, in insurance or on the legal side of business.

For those working as CPAs, the right contacts can be good stepping stones to entering the field, says Wayne Hoeberlein, who recently joined UHY Advisors' Forensic, Litigation and Valuation Services (FLVS) Group as a managing director. "There is great opportunity to professionally advance one's career in this field as experience is gained and contacts are made in the legal community, he believes." He agrees with Clancy's assessment that job prospects for litigation specialists are wide. "Most accounting firms, both large and small, as well as specialized consulting firms, including business advisory and economic firms, participate in this service area, and the need for experienced personnel is great," he says.

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