Kathi KedrowskiNext profile
Managing Director, CLP, CFF
Chicago, ILMy Bio
"You gotta be kidding." Those were Kathi Kedrowski’s exact words upon walking into one of her early audit assignments. Something about the precise, predictable procedure just rubbed her the wrong way. “I have to follow all these steps in order?” she asked, of no one in particular. “There's no way I can do this permanently.”
So Kathi made the switch to forensic accounting – specifically being an expert witness in intellectual property cases – and witnessed the end of her rhetorical complaints. “The mindset in this practice is very different,” she says. “It’s more creative. A client calls you, and you've got to think on your feet and figure out where to go as opposed to having a set of steps to rely on. Personally, I like the lack of a workplan.”
The patent lawyers who hire her are also happy she made the switch to forensic accounting. There’s an old bit of courtroom wisdom that says there’s no witness more credible than a woman accountant in her mid-30s, and Kathi’s pretty close to ideal.
“I’ve testified in about 25 trials, given about 100 depositions on my findings,” she says. “I’ve handled cases for patent, trademark, copyright, redress, you name it, in Federal Court, State Court, and international Arbitration Tribunals.” (She’s also leads the Intellectual Property Practice Segment at Navigant Consulting, and has more than two decades of experience. Oh, and that’s all in addition to being a recognized authority who speaks and publishes all the time.)
So when a lawyer needs a believable, knowledgeable witness – especially on an issue of intellectual property, where the parties can’t agree on who owns (and gets to profit from) an invention, design or artistic creation – he calls Kathi. Then, if there’s no conflict of interest, her team gets to work studying all the information they can get their hands on. And while the court decides which side is in the wrong, Kathi decides how much it should cost them.
“The job of the forensic accountant is to take a whole bunch of financial information and figure out what happened and what the harm was to somebody,” she says. “You take months worth of work and communicate that to the jury (or the judge) in an hour.” Before that, though, you communicate it to the lawyers who hired you. Which can be an adventure.
“Everybody’s got big eyes when it comes to compensation,” she explains. “Sometimes it’s a surprise to the attorneys if we find out that their case isn’t worth the millions they thought it was.” Surprise or not, when it comes down to that final number, everyone knows that Kathi and her team are the only ones who can set it. Good thing there’s plenty of research for her to draw on.
Interestingly for Kathi, a relatively high proportion of her cases do end up going to trial – 25%, compared to the usual 4% of patent cases. Why? “There's so much ego involved with IP cases,” she says. “The whole ‘I did it; you took it’ effect. If one party feels very strongly that there’s injustice, they’re eager to take it to court.”
Adding to the excitement is the fast pace of her courtroom appearances – again due to the nature of the practice. “I'm likely to issue an opinion, give a deposition and go straight to trial in one year. Some districts move so quickly that the case can go from complaint to trial in six months.”
And that, as you’d imagine, requires a good deal more of thinking on your feet – Kathi’s specialty. “It frustrates people sometimes,” she says, “because they're always looking for an answer, and there is no answer. There's just the most credible way of putting together what you think the facts are telling you."
Best of all, no more step-by-step instructions: “I get to create whatever the answer is from scratch.”