Jonathan Humphrey is “extremely dedicated and able to turn around quality reports in a very short time frame”, say sources, who add that “he is able to explain complex concepts in simple and clear terms”.
Jonathan leads HKA’s forensic accounting and commercial damages practice in Asia Pacific. He is a chartered accountant with more than 25 years of experience advising clients as an accounting and finance expert on complex contentious matters. Jonathan specialises in the assessment of damages, including the quantification of lost profits and business valuations, with an established international background having worked on disputes related to all continents, and experience covering most industry sectors.
What does exceptional client service look like to you?
While I am, in the most part, appointed by one of the parties to a dispute, I am an independent expert and my duty is to the court. Therefore, in addition to being responsive and producing a comprehensive work product, I think the best trait one can have is honesty. A client needs to understand its position, good or bad, which can help it make informed decisions.
Also, each client should be treated as if they are the most important client you have. While experts deal in different sizes of disputes, a more modest claim value to a small company is just as important to it as a large dispute for a large company.
What were the key hurdles in pursuing a career as an expert witness in commercial litigation and how did you overcome them?
Understandably, clients tend to be risk-averse when it comes to their selection of expert, equating experience to quality. In the early days, when pitching for expert appointments, the first question was “have you been appointed as an expert before?”, and once I was able to answer that question in the affirmative, the next question became “how many times have you given evidence?”.
Getting past this impediment required internal support and an external profile. I was lucky enough to have had a great mentor who actively looked for opportunities where I could be an expert, offering up their time to review my work for free, which gave the clients comfort of the quality of work. This is something I have taken on in my attempts to get my junior colleagues appointed. I also built my profile and connections in the legal community through attendance at conferences and seminars, and this increased recognition resulted in acceptance as a proposed expert.
How effective are hybrid hearings, and what challenges do they pose?
The last three years have taught us that virtual and hybrid hearings can work very well. As an expert, giving evidence virtually can have distinct advantages as you often have your own access to the trial bundle. This can be extremely helpful to the court as it’s easier for the expert to walk through specific documents to assist the court’s understanding of issues. There are cost advantages too and the ability for the support team to attend the hybrid hearing.
The key challenge for me is a perceived lack of connection with the judge, and then there’s the issue of time zones. I’ve been giving evidence at 2am before, although perhaps that is better than jetlag.
I did expect hybrid hearings to become a more regular occurrence, especially for cross-border litigation. However, the reality is that I’m not seeing it, with every hearing now being in person.
How are pressures on costs and pricing structures changing the legal sector? What advantages and disadvantages does this challenge bring for expert firms?
Pricing structures appear to be evolving, from law firms offering capped fees or the evolving regulations around conditional fee agreements (“CFAs"), which are being discussed in a number of jurisdictions although often only in respect of arbitration proceedings. While, as experts, we’re unable to agree to CFAs, we are certainly being asked whether we can agree fixed or capped fees.
While we understand the importance of cost to our clients, we would require additional information early on in order to comply with these requests.
How are claimants using litigation proceedings to pressure governments, companies and investors to take action on climate change?
There has certainly been an increase in cases over the past number of years, but I think it’s fair to say that there has been mixed success.
There has been a variety of cases, from challenges to decisions to approve high-emissions projects, to claims against pension/superannuation funds for failure to take into account climate change risk in investments.
As responsibilities of directors and financial reporting increase, future claims might include securities class actions from investors seeking to recover losses from directors, auditors and advisors who have failed to account for climate change risks. More claims are also being initiated by communities affected by climate change seeking damages.
From a damages perspective, current cases have focused more on raising awareness and enforcing disclosure rather than damages. However, the focus on damages is likely to increase as these types of claims develop. For example, plaintiffs may seek compensation for mitigation costs, diminution in value of assets and lost profits.
What excites you most about the future of litigation expert work and why?
I am noticing matters becoming more complex which, from an expert’s viewpoint, means there are very interesting and thought-provoking issues which arise, meaning that my days aren’t boring.
This increased complexity means that, at HKA, we often provide clients with multidisciplinary teams, with experts covering a range of issues. I really enjoy working alongside fellow experts and pulling the pieces together to get to the crux of an issue.
What qualities make for a successful expert witness and how can younger experts best hone these qualities?
I believe that experts need to try and remain calm, be clear in their positions and be honest.
As a firm, HKA is involved with a number of organisations which provide cross-examination training for aspiring advocates. As part of this, we design example cases and provide junior experts to be cross-examined before a tribunal of experienced practitioners, which provides them with a taste of what it’s like to be on the stand. It’s also good to get used to speaking in front of people, so I encourage my team to give training courses and presentations to law firms.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
I joined HKA four years ago to set up its forensic accounting and commercial damages practice globally. We’ve grown to a team of over 120 experts and staff. I hope to help in the continued growth of the practice and build a team that long outlasts me.