I am a supply chain expert witness – here’s what I’ve learned

Key points of contention are communications between partners, agreements that are insufficiently in writing and forecasting changes.

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I have been doing expert witness legal work for 15 years. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s very hard work leveraging all of the years of my experience, triumphs, and failures applied to understanding the case evidence, writing an expert witness report, and testifying at depositions and trials. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about supply chain disputes.

To qualify as an expert witness, it helps to have written a book or two in your field of expertise. I have written 5 books on supply chain management. Typically, expert witness work also requires an advanced degree such as an MBA, ME, or PhD. In addition, this work requires many years of experience.

Even though I’ve been doing supply chain management work for 40 years and have done many projects across all segments of supply chain management around the world,  I am not qualified for all cases I get asked about. My expertise in Chinese manufacturing, contract manufacturing, import/export, procurement, and logistics is where my skills fit the best with supply chain disputes. In this work, you must be very careful about not accepting a case where you do not have deep expertise. If you do, you can easily be disqualified.

A typical case involves discussing the issues with the attorney representing a client, and then reading the case documents including court filings, reviewing evidence and reading depositions and statements of the people involved. Once I have reviewed these documents, I may analyze the data presented and complete additional research about the issues I am considering. Then I formulate my opinions on the case and discuss these with the attorney I am working for.

I may discuss case strategy with the attorney to make certain I understand all of the issues that should be emphasized in my report and testimony. Finally, l write an expert opinion report, which follows a specific legal format. I may also be deposed regarding my opinions and testify at trial.

It’s crucially important to stay objective as an expert witness and use all of one’s knowledge and experience to opine on the issues of the case. This is forensic work - looking backward to determine what happened and why versus consulting work which is examining problems, fixing issues, and developing a forward strategy.

Here are a few things I have learned about supply chain disputes.

Most supply chain disputes result from communication issues between supply chain partners. Communicating expectations and providing feedback between supply chain partners can help to avoid expensive legal battles. Try your best to resolve issues between supply chain partners before they become legal issues.

Get all of your agreements in writing, including what is agreed to in meetings or phone calls. Document what details are agreed to, and who will do what and when. Then put it all in the contract or supplemental email and ask for a confirming response. Emails often become evidence in a legal battle.

The most frequent disputes I see include forecasting changes – when orders are canceled or changed. A dispute then arises about who is responsible for payment or excess inventory. When demand changes, the parties often dispute orders, cancellations and promises made.

Expert witness work is both interesting and challenging and is a great culmination of a long career in supply chain management.

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About the Author

Rosemary Coates, Executive Director
Rosemary Coates's Bio Photo

Ms. Coates is the Executive Director of the Reshoring Institute and the President of Blue Silk Consulting, a Global Supply Chain consulting firm. She is a best-selling author of five supply chain management books including: 42 Rules for Sourcing and Manufacturing in China and Legal Blacksmith - How to Avoid and Defend Supply Chain Disputes. Ms. Coates lives in Silicon Valley and has worked with over 80 clients worldwide. She is also an Expert Witness for legal cases involving global supply chain matters. She is passionate about Reshoring.

View Rosemary's author profile.

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