"Philippa is a very impressive expert"
"She has an excellent ability to work under pressure"
A chartered accountant specialising in forensic services for over 20 years, and an auditor prior to that, Philippa is experienced at giving expert advice and independent expert witness opinion on accounting and financial issues in commercial disputes. This includes issues going to breach and causation where the dispute involves allegedly misstated financial information and quantifying the loss suffered in these kinds of matters and in a variety of other commercial and contractual disputes, if assuming breach were proven.
What do you enjoy most about being a cross-disciplinary liability expert?
I love working with practitioners in other fields of expertise, seeing how each of us responds to the parties’ positions and then working together, comparing notes on the whole picture. Each of us brings our own blend of experience to assessing evidence going to liability (such as breaches of financial warranties, or audit negligence matters where I support practitioners to act as expert) - we challenge each other’s thinking and road-test key areas of professional judgment.
You are especially renowned for your skill at analysing suspected accounting misstatements and fraud. What do you think you are doing differently?
Taking a holistic approach to understanding a company’s financial drivers and position, combining technical accounting and financial reporting expertise with interrogative techniques within one multi-disciplinary team.
To what extent has market volatility led to an uptick in commercial arbitration hearings?
Market volatility contributes to uncertainty and contracts may have been entered into with less reliable information or may not have panned out as expected. Disputes are more likely where parties are misaligned in these situations and the financial damage is considered by one to be significant, leading parties to seek resolution in an arbitration hearing as they would otherwise be unable to move on with their ventures. We have seen transaction disputes where poor performance post-deal has led remorseful buyers to try and seek recovery from sellers, but also have seen buyers who have acted in good faith and overpaid for assets based on a less than complete or accurate picture of the condition of the business who are seeking an equitable remedy. We have also seen an uptick in claims under warranty and indemnity policies lagging behind the M&A spree of 2021-22. We find the imbalance of information in such cases, where sellers are out of the picture, is often a factor in parties settling rather than going to arbitration.
How do you approach quantum evaluations differently depending on the type of dispute at hand (professional negligence, breach of contract, etc)?
In either case it’s essential to understand what the parties say did happen and what they say would have happened but for the breach – professional negligence matters often involve a more complex chain of causation being advanced compared to, for example, a failure to comply with contractual obligations, but the principles of assessing the financial impact of the alleged breach are the same. Breach of warranty is different as the law requires the assessment of diminution in market value of the asset at the transaction date, which may differ from an assessment of consequential loss, and hindsight has only limited application.
How is artificial intelligence (AI) being utilised to identify anomalies and speed up workflows?
When data sets are very large, the use of machines to apply both pre-set features and machine-learned concepts to identify potentially relevant lines of enquiry has massively increased efficiency and has allowed experts to be better deployed closely examining anomalies rather than searching for them. It is essential, however, for human operators to ensure they understand on what basis items have been ruled out or in by the automated processes and to recalibrate the parameters as required by considering carefully the results and the level of target accuracy.
What do you think is the best mentality to succeed during cross-examinations?
Play it straight, know your stuff inside out and expect a few curveballs.
How is Grant Thornton’s approach to disputes advisory work distinct from other consulting firms?
We recognise that real world problems are complex and multi-factorial – that is the beauty of being able to bring in expertise seamlessly from across an international network as needed to consider a matter in dispute – we can thereby combine local knowledge and language capabilities, niche sector experience, practical expertise in the relevant technical disciplines and best-in-class forensic analysis and reporting to ensure our advice and work product is well-informed, robust and dependable for use in proceedings or for settlement purposes.
What are the main obstacles facing women in this profession and how can they be addressed?
Expert work is not for everyone, but there is no good reason why a woman wanting to pursue such a career should not be successful. If you want to be an expert witness, make sure you have experienced experts out in the market who will look for opportunities personally to recommend you to their contacts. It just takes one such break from which you can start to build your own reputation. Instructing lawyers should look past the reassuring grey hairs of ‘seasoned’ experts and try an experienced junior whose motivation to do an excellent job will guard against any slip-ups through complacency. This applies to people of all genders trying to break into expert work. Women are statistically more likely to work shorter hours and that may be perceived as a blocker to progress in leading expert work - I am a big believer in making professional services generally more accessible by sharing and co-leading roles. With commercial arbitration tribunals increasingly willing to accept dual signature of expert reports, firms should be grasping opportunities for the next generation, and an increasing proportion of women, to gain expert experience in this way. I applaud the efforts of Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses (ERE) and Arbitral Women who are each helping to boost the chances for aspiring female experts. There is a lot of support if you reach out.