Peers and clients say:
"She is among the best, if not the best, quantum expert with whom I have worked"
"Laura goes above and beyond to provide first-rate client service"
"She is extraordinarily diligent and dedicated and is an excellent practitioner"
Laura Hardin is a managing director with Alvarez & Marsal disputes and investigations in Houston. She has more than 25 years of experience in business valuation, damages assessments, and forensic accounting in international arbitration. Ms. Hardin has served as an expert witness and provided expert guidance on damage quantification for both investment treaty and commercial matters and has submitted evidence in international arbitration cases brought before ICC, ICDR, LCIA, SCC, ICSID, and ad hoc tribunals.
What motivated you to pursue a career in advisory and dispute resolution services?
My career path to becoming a testifying expert has been circuitous; I certainly did not grow up wanting to be a damages expert nor would I have ever thought growing up that this career path would be the one I ended up taking. My undergraduate degree was in Russian language and literature, and my initial idea was to become a teacher. After student teaching, I decided to pursue an MBA. I began with Price Waterhouse in corporate finance and unexpectedly was staffed on a dispute engagement. Identifying the key points of an analysis, convincing the trier of fact and presenting the opinions in as clear and compelling a way as possible was engaging work for me. It also gave me the opportunity to be a teacher, which was my original career path. International arbitration has also given me lots of opportunities to use my Russian language skills, so my career path has, in many ways, come full circle.
What is it about your role as an expert witness that you enjoy most?
Testifying is challenging, but most testifiers will tell you that, provided you are well prepared, there is nothing more exhilarating than a good testimony. Testimony is particularly rewarding if I feel I have made a connection with the tribunal and when they ask lots of questions, which indicates to me that they are engaged, are listening and they are interested in the bases of my opinions. While I enjoy testifying, the best moment is when I am released from the testimony and it has gone well. I also very much enjoy the intellectual challenge of developing testimony main themes and demonstrative exhibits that really summarise the key points of my analysis and make clear to the tribunal why this opinion or assumption is correct and should be accepted.
How do you effectively prepare for a testifying case?
One of the deciding factors in effective testimony is being thoroughly prepared for any and all potential questions. This process ideally starts months before the testimony and includes reviewing all of my reports, exhibits, and appendices, as well as the legal submissions, particularly where they discuss key damages issues. Preparation means revisiting all the key assumptions of the calculations and re-testing them and conducting additional research if necessary. It also means thoroughly reviewing the opposing expert reports, to identify the key weaknesses in their calculation and make sure all of their critiques have been adequately addressed. Ideally preparation involves meetings with counsel (these can be conference calls or Zoom meetings) to go over what they believe are key areas of potential questioning. This is helpful because counsel has different priorities and a different viewpoint often on what are potential issues than the damages expert. Finally, it is also very beneficial often to attend opening arguments for both sides and the testimony of key witnesses, particularly if they are expert witnesses whose input and calculations feed into my analysis. This is an arduous and exhausting process, but there is no substitute for being thorough and meticulous in your preparation to ensure a successful testimony.
If you could change one thing about giving testimony as an arbitration expert, what would it be and why?
I think cross-examination is not always the most effective method for the tribunal to understand the key issues in a case to help them make their decision. The objective of counsel seems to be to trip up the damages expert, or to make them look bad or incompetent.
I think that if I would change one thing about giving expert testimony, I would want the tribunal to be engaged more in asking the questions of experts, whether this be through direct questioning after the cross-examination, or through witness conferencing. The tribunal’s motivations are necessarily more focused on understanding the differences between the two expert calculations, and why one assumption might be more appropriate than another in a damages calculation. Whereas I have sat through hours of cross-examination, which does very little to illuminate the key issues in a particular case, questions from the tribunal seem always to add enormous value in focusing in on the major areas of disagreement and clarifying expert positions and major assumptions.
What makes Alvarez & Marsal stand out from its competitors in the market?
Alvarez & Marsal is well-known in International arbitration with a team of experienced and respected experts located in key areas around the world. Our practice is supported by very experienced and knowledgeable functional and technical experts. Our senior leaders are involved at every stage of a dispute or investigation, and we consistently serve as experts in critical and high-stakes matters. Alvarez & Marsal leverages its restructuring and turnaround services heritage and deep expertise in certain key industries such as energy, telecommunications, financial services, real estate, and construction.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
In my career I was advised that, as testifying experts, we have to be very conscious of the positions we take on a case and the potential impact of these decisions on our credibility as experts. I was advised to be aware of any tendency towards ethical drift, in taking positions that were too aggressive and were not supportable. This is a very gradual process that can happen over time without realising it if you are not paying attention. Ultimately, our value as experts is our reputation, and that we are considered credible experts to tribunals. I think the best advice I ever received was protecting this status of being a credible and trustworthy advisor at all costs, which means not taking aggressive or contradictory positions, even when counsel or the client is urging me to do so.