Troy Dahlberg earns widespread endorsements for his deep expertise in forensic accounting matters pertaining to quantum and damages.
A forensic accountant with more than 35 years of experience, Troy has served as an expert witness on more than 50 occasions. He has testified in state and federal courts, and in complex arbitrations, and provided expert witness forensic accounting for several complex commercial disputes. Troy is a certified public accountant in New York and California, a member of the California State Bar, and certified and accredited by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
How has the role of expert witness changed since you started your career?
In particular, there are a lot more motions at the federal level involving the Daubert Motion, which is filed [by opposing counsel] to dismiss experts from testifying. 20 years ago, the motion was rarely used, but attorneys now file it in a majority of their cases almost as a matter of routine, and it is being granted with increasing frequency. It’s become almost automatic, especially over the past five to 10 years.
You have significant experience of being appointed as an arbitrator in disputes. What steps can younger experts take to improve their chances of getting appointments?
It’s helpful to find an area of practice in which there is a demand for arbitrators that matches your specific experience and background, and gain experience working on both sides of a dispute. In general, most arbitrators are retired attorneys, retired judges or retired engineers, not accountants or CPAs. I found an area in which accountants are routinely hired as arbitrators, which is difficult to do, and have carved a niche in arbitrating post-acquisition disputes.
What are the greatest challenges posed to forensic accountants by post-acquisition disputes?
The greatest challenges are posed by clients who are overly aggressive, don’t take advice well, and want to maximise a benefit even when the information, or the situation, points to a less-than good result. Part of what we do in post-acquisition disputes is advise clients on how to create value, or how to protect themselves from losing value. Sometimes, however, clients don’t want to take our advice. That’s where my experience as a neutral comes in—I can objectively present both sides of a dispute, help clients see the issues more clearly, and find appropriate solutions.
What qualities make for a testifying expert and forensic accountant?
It’s important to not be stuck in your own mind or your own opinion. It’s also important to be able to understand other people, figure them out, understand how they perceive things and what would cause them to act in a certain way. To be a good expert witness, you have to be able to understand what is important for a judge or a jury. It’s the same with forensic accounting. It’s not just numbers. There are people behind those numbers, and you need to figure out what motivates them, what’s important to them, to more fully understand the situation.
What are some of the most significant professional challenges you expect disputes experts to encounter in the near future and how will you navigate them?
Experts are really, in some sense, only as good as the people who work with and support them. One of the biggest challenges is that, if you really mentor people and really care about them, you're eventually going to have to part ways with them. They’re going to move on. You’ve got to realise that, if you’re doing it right, the people you’re training, investing in, and nurturing are going to be able to do this without you someday. It’s simultaneously gratifying and challenging.
Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest achievement?
Survival. My dad grew up in a world where you got hired by a company and you worked for that company for your entire life. I grew up in a world where there was no guarantee that you were going to have a job in six months, and that's never changed. I also work in an environment that requires you to move periodically—to a new firm or a new location—if you are going to be successful. And, every time you move, you have to rebuild things—your reputation, your team, or your roster of clients—and that rebuilding takes time.
If you could introduce one reform into litigation or arbitration proceedings, what would it be and why?
I would call for more focus on factual information, and less of a focus on the argument or how you present the facts. As an arbitrator, I can boil the facts down quickly, but then I need to wade through everything else, which is just some version of an argument or a ‘spin.’ That results in a lot of wasted time, and a lot of wasted money.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
That’s a good question. I’ve never really had a mentor. But I have learned that, if you’re going to have good professional relationships, you need to share—share revenue, share resources, share clients.