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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jury Duty, Investing, and Warren Buffett

At some point in a jury trial, you get to credentials.  In the jury trial I was on, a "first responder" was getting equipment off a firetruck in a cordoned-off area when he was sideswiped by an elderly lady whose car had somehow made it into the area.  He rolled down an embankment and damaged his knee.

I was hoping the trial would go into analyzing how the lady got her car into the area, but instead it veered off into discussing the problem knee.

With a damaged knee, the defendant couldn't do his second job - roofing.  After some background in what roofers go through, we took a much-needed break.  Next, they brought the credentialed experts in - in this case, the knee specialists.  As Warner Wolf used to say, "Let's go to the tape!"

Both sides took 20 minutes to present the credentials of their experts.  They have gone to prestigious schools, written the most widely-used text books on knee surgeries and reconstruction, invented a knee brace or two, and performed one zillion surgeries.  They have been on Presidential Commissions and one even performed knee surgery on the moon, if I remember correctly.  After a while, it all started to blend together.

All of this, and time to be a professional expert witness!  You can't help but be impressed.

The testimony on each side took 20 seconds.  "I examined the x-rays and with this knee injury the defendant can do/can't do roofing."  

When you think about it, though, expert witness is many times the best.  Especially when it comes uncompensated.  Many people understand that this isn't the case in the world of financial services.

In this world, it is easy to impress with colored graphs and fancy promotional materials.  It is not uncommon to find prospective clients overwhelmed by bulky analysis and jargon.

This is exactly where  the best approach is to put all of that aside and ask the uncompensated expert witness.  We go to the tape and see what Warren Buffett has to say about the best way to invest:

Better yet, I like to go to a direct quote from  his 1996 annual report:

Most investors, both institutional and individual, will find that the best way to own common stocks  is through an index fund that charges minimal fees. Those following this path are sure to beat the net results (after fees and expenses) of the great majority of investment professionals.  

This sentence is worth parsing.  He mentions both "...institutional and individual...."  Institutional includes the large pension funds and others whom hire the best and the brightest from the nation's best business schools.  If anyone could beat the market by stock picking, timing or voodoo even, it would certainly be this group.  Yet Buffett says they, too, should use low-cost index funds.  And, they do to a surprising extent; but that is the subject of a future post. 


  1. Buffet is a gem with regards to investing. People would do well to listen to him carefully. That's certainly how I got started.

    BTW, 20 minutes for explaining credentials and 20 seconds worth of testimony just sounds odd! LOL

  2. 401Ks are so structured, we can't even do indexing. If it weren't for employee matching, most would be better off with an IRA.

    Why is a knee injury going to trial? Don't the insurance companies usually handle such cases out of court?

  3. RE; Watson Maybe the 20 seconds/20 minutes was a bit exaggerated - but not by much!
    re: MC The trial was about suing to get compensation over a year and one-half's pay for a second job as a roofer. As it turned out there was no testimony from the employer and the plaintiff hadn't worked much prior to the accident!

  4. In choosing a reliable expert witness, a background check is necessary. A good credentials is a must for every expert witness.