Cherry Bekaert LLP
Leadership in Litigation Support Services
|Mark Giallonardo, Philip Shechter, Gustavo Perez and David Appel|
Phil Shechter is a highly respected expert witness in South Florida courtrooms. “I have testified in more than 1,000 cases, and understand the process of being on stage in court,” says Shechter, the national leader of litigation support service for Cherry Bekaert LLP. “Our firm has extensive resources to help attorneys throughout each matter, including experienced professionals from our valuation and tax practices, as well our litigation team of 12 full-time accountants, including partners.”
Cherry Bekaert takes a case management approach to legal counsel with high-quality service in divorce cases, commercial disputes and other types of litigation. “Our managers work closely with our staff in preparing documents, meeting deadlines and responding quickly to attorneys’ requests,” says Shechter, who is a Florida certified public accountant (CPA), Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) and a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA). “We also know that our role is to be the historian in the case — it’s the attorney who is the advocate.”
Since entering the South Florida market six years ago, Cherry Bekaert LLP has grown to 150 people including state and national practice leaders. “Our value proposition is in the high level of service we provide in litigation support, forensic analysis, valuations and tax, as well as the traditional accounting practices,” says David W. Appel, CPA, managing partner of the firm’s South Florida practice. In addition to offices in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables, Cherry Bekaert has two other Florida offices in Tampa and Orlando.
Ranked among the largest accounting and consulting firms in the country, Cherry Bekaert’s network includes Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington D.C.. This firm is also allied with Baker Tilly International, an association of independent accounting services and consulting firms, which allows Cherry Bekaert to service clients where they do not have physical locations. “Our full-service approach helps us build our client base,” adds Appel. “Once an attorney, law firm, banker or other client gets to know us, they begin to use Cherry Bekaert for other services. That’s been a strong impetus for our growth.”
A Sophisticated Approach to Valuations
Gustavo Perez, ASA, IA, principal is the firm’s national leader of valuation services, leading a team of 12 professionals — including six in South Florida — who do nothing but business valuations and litigation support. “Valuation is both an art and a science,” he says. “There are several methodologies, in the end, your results have to make sense.”
Perez has testified many times about economic damages, and has been engaged as a neutral expert to find an acceptable answer to the question: “How much is a business really worth?”
For example, Perez was recently involved in an international arbitration case relating to a breach of contract. “The opposing expert and I were about $30 million apart,” he says. “After taking a closer look at the industry, including the risk factors affecting the business,, we prevailed by being able to support and demonstrate to the tribunal why our results were more reasonable.”
Other aspects of the valuation practice include testing the value of “goodwill” on the company’s books and allocation of purchase price, a major financial consideration for private and publicly traded companies. “A significant portion of our practice also involves valuation services for financial reporting compliance purposes,” Perez adds. “This requires a sophisticated approach, particularly for intangible assets like trade names, technology, non-compete agreements, customer relationships and other intangible assets.”
Appel notes that the sophisticated tax planning around a company’s intellectual property (IP) can make a difference for asset protection strategies . “Whether those rights are held in the United States or offshore matters when it’s time to pay the corporate taxes,” he adds.
Tax Planning Services
Mark Giallonardo, JD, LLM, principal, is the firm’s tax leader for Florida. Since joining Cherry Bekaert in January, he has supervised a 90-person team that handles both domestic and international tax planning and provides advisory services.
“We look for opportunities in inbound and outbound transactions, including proper entity structuring and perhaps the use of an IC-DISC (Interest-Charge Domestic International Sales Corporations),” Giallonardo says. “ Most recently, we have spent considerable time helping clients to comply with the new Tangible Property Regulations, whereby items that have traditionally been capitalized may now be expensed. That can create a potential tax benefit without reducing equity value or amending prior years financial statements or tax returns.”
Cherry Bekaert is much more than a traditional accounting firm, he adds. “We are trusted business advisors to our clients, helping them succeed at every stage of their business from start-up through retirement.” In addition, the firm’s tax specialists also help clients address local property tax issues. “When they have real estate tax bills, we can help get them reduced,” he says. “That includes businesses with multiple locations in Florida and throughout the country.”
As a regional leader in tax and accounting services, Cherry Bekaert holds regular “lunch and learn” educational sessions at South Florida financial institutions on topics related to commercial lending, family wealth and other issues. One example is the use of captive insurance companies, that can provide potential tax benefits to U.S. companies, says Appel. “We also advise law firms, small businesses and other companies on succession planning and how to monetize their assets,” Appel adds. “We enjoy helping clients through the challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities.”
Cherry Bekaert’s litigation support team understands how to search electronic documents for keywords, examine spreadsheets on hard drives and track down international tax filings and bank accounts. “Being well rounded in accounting specialties is a definite advantage in this field,” says Shechter.
Bringing in the accounting experts early in the case has clear benefits to the attorney and the client, Shechter says. “We can help with the discovery list and the damages methodology. In commercial cases, for instance, a decrease in business valuation might be a more accurate approach than using a lost-profits model.”
That’s just the start of preparing for trial or arbitration, according to Shechter. “I believe you have to read the depositions, go through the financial documents and visit the site, when you can,” he says. “The judge or jury expects you do to the work, and that first question on cross-examination will largely decide whether or not the jury believes you as an expert.”
From a broader perspective, Shechter says South Florida is an ideal venue for international litigation and arbitrations, including cross-border ventures, commercial disputes, fraud and shareholder battles. “The business interactions between U.S. and South American companies continue to increase, and that will create a growing flow of litigation opportunities for our legal community in the next decade.”