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At the Round Table with Art Appraiser Expert, Lisa Barnes

September 28, 2023

In this episode . . .

Ms. Barnes believes that the way an expert presents information is as important as the information being presented, explaining, “You need to be very simple and appeal to people [with] your language, your body posture.” She goes on, “When one simplifies it as an expert . . . you will be able to win. You [have to] know the people that you’re trying to appeal to.”

Other topics include intimidation in the courtroom, the expert-attorney relationship, and the importance of being on the ‘winning’ side of an engagement.

Episode Transcript:

Note:  Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Host:  Noah Bolmer, Round Table Group

Guest: Lisa Barnes, Owner at Rare Art Appraisals and Art Consultancy

Noah Bolmer: Welcome to Discussions at the Round Table. I am your host, Noah Bolmer, and today I am excited to welcome Lisa Barnes. Ms. Barnes is the owner of Rare Art Appraisals and Art Consultancy which has a broad range of offerings ranging from wine collection valuation to expert witnessing. She has over 28 years of experience with the appraising, curation, and conservation of art. Ms. Barnes, thank you, for joining me today.

Lisa Barnes: Thank you for inviting me, Noah.

Noah Bolmer: Of course. Let’s jump into it. You have built a successful worldwide practice in art appraisals, were you always a fan of fine art? How did you first get into art appraisal?

Lisa Barnes: I will give you The Reader Digest version. I was always passionate about art. But when I first went to College in Boston, I thought I would be a psych major. Then I was able to study in Paris and took my first course in art history and I became passionate about business. I tried to navigate myself through those processes and was studying at the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I came back to Boston, and I applied to Oxford, and I met a mentor who said you should study at Sotheby’s, they have a great program. So, I went from there and came back to the United States after studying in London and I started an art consultancy business. I advise corporations spending money and other investment firms, and I moved to New Zealand and then I found myself- you know,  after the fact, a lot of people when corporations were not investing, appraisal business was something that is always needed from an insurance point, estate, and my expert witness developed through there. Eighty percent of my business is expert witness. Art crime, scams and schemes is the second largest crime in the world, so I found myself, like, in this very interesting predicament and got involved with a lot of interesting cases.

Noah Bolmer: Wow, that is quite a story. You have gone to many different places, moved around, and learned from different organizations and institutions. That is fascinating. Art is a broad category, and you are a rare art appraiser. Do you have a broad practice there? In your industry, what does it mean to be, quote an expert and how do you remain an expert? How do you stay current with everything?

Lisa Barnes: Well, there are several things. You need to have what is called a USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) so the IRS accepts your appraisals, like, accountants and attorneys, you do have to keep up if you are legitimate, so I do coursework all the time. One can never be perfect in this area. It is an ongoing process. About ten years ago I started doing wine appraisal. I did a wine course at Christie’s in London with a gentleman who was the only person able to taste what they discovered were the wines belonging to Thomas Jefferson. It is mentoring people and staying at the top of your field, but also being credentialed and ethical. To be an expert, you need to be truthful, be prepared to testify, and not be sloppy, lazy, or arrogant. That is how you are a successful expert witness. One learns over time.

Noah Bolmer: When you became an expert witness, you had already opened your consultancy. Did you get a call out of the blue, or was it something that you just started marketing actively?

Lisa Barnes: Somebody contacted me to be an expert witness. It was a process. I am not saying you can walk into a courtroom or be an expert witness, especially in my unique area. I got called in and then I found many people were calling upon me because I was not intimidated by the court, the jury, or the whole process. I think it is important to understand your limitations, the quality of your work, your due diligence, etcetera. That is where I developed that part of my practice.

Noah Bolmer: Sure. Take me back to the beginning. When you were first contacted, you had never done this before. What was that like? How was the preparation? Did you go to court for the first time, or did you just write a report?

Lisa Barnes: It is a funny story. I was working in Las Vegas, and I had a friend of mine who called me and said, “These guys look a bit shady.” I had a private office in Vegas and a secretary, and two guys arrived at my office. They said, “We have this Picasso, that we think was stolen. Here is the police report from New York. Can you look at it? We think it is worth $20 million.” Doing my due diligence, I reported it to IFER, which is a directory that lists all stolen art. Now mind you, they gave me the police report saying it was stolen and wanted me to sell it for 12 million. That was kind of my first case. Then I got a call. It was on TV and the FBI and US Attorney’s Office called me and asked, “Would you be willing to be an expert witness in this case and establish the value? It was stolen from an apartment in New York.”

Noah Bolmer: You are on this big crazy case and the lawyers call you and you meet with them. Then what happens? What was the preparation like for this case?

Lisa Barnes: I got a call from the FBI in Phoenix about this case. These guys disappeared. They were ex-mob and there was a back story to it. This painting was taken from Picasso and given to a count of Spain, who brought it to the New York apartment. According to the count, the painting was stolen by a priest who took it out a window. The FBI called me, and we had a sting operation for it. They collected the painting and the two gentlemen. The painting was supposed to be valued at 12 million. There was another back story. I worked with the FBI and the United States Attorney and traveled with an FBI agent. We met one of Picasso’s lovers, who was in San Diego. They looked at it and were like, it does not look good. Then, we found a painting under the painting. I went to a conservator. The process was extensive. The end of the story is that the Mona Lisa [for] Picasso will never be known because there was a painting after the painting.

Noah Bolmer: Wow, intrigue. I want to talk about what it was like to be an expert on that case. Some of the mechanical stuff. Did you do any mock cross-examinations? Were you coached?

Lisa Barnes: Since the painting was confiscated, the case did not go to trial. The two gentlemen who came to see me went to jail. The funniest part of the case was the painting was supposedly worth 12 million, which meant they would have been in jail for a long time, but they were only in prison for six months because the painting ended up being valued at $500.

Noah Bolmer: You jumped and hit the ground running on your first case. What were some of the more mundane things that you have done? Have you had depositions? Have you been cross-examined, or has it been mainly the writing of reports? What has that been like?

Lisa Barnes: It depends on how serious the case is. I think your relationship with the attorneys is important. I was on a very high-profile case in Chicago that Sears was suing, and we finally settled after three years. But in those types of situations, I think it is important to be informed and to educate the attorneys because they do not know anything about the value of art. Most of them are like, “You know, I’ve got this in my house” but they do not understand the value. My posture as an expert witness is I always walk in and say, “Let’s talk” and I will educate them. I can tell you on several occasions, judges are always like, “Could you stay longer? This is so interesting” because they get an education, too. I think in the art world, because perhaps you do not know, there are only about 1200 certified finite appraisers in the US. We are a small group. Many appraisers do not want to do expert work, so when you go into a case, it is important to be knowledgeable, simplistic, and comprehensive with your evaluation of the artwork. You also need to explain how you justify that value.

Noah Bolmer: I want to jump back to something you mentioned earlier. You take a proactive approach. You tell your lawyer and the judge this. Tell me about that. How do you push back on an attorney or a judge without becoming intimidated by them? Newer experts ask where I can draw the line. What am I allowed to say? When can I push back?

Lisa Barnes: I will be honest, I had one case in Tucson in Superior Court and the opposing counsel was trying to intimidate me and I was in tears. The judge fined him and kicked him out. I think we learn things as we go through the process. Can you redirect your question?

Noah Bolmer: Sure, no problem. Just, you know, what are the techniques that you can use to of for a pushing back? You know, if your attorney when you were saying that your attorney doesn’t necessarily know a lot about art. So how do you go about saying, you know what? You know, you’re actually wrong about this. This is how it actually is. Can that be intimidating to try and push back on an attorney like that, or do you find that they’re pretty receptive to you?

Lisa Barnes: I think they are receptive because an expert witness needs to have their resumes and credentials accurate so they can see their judgment is there. I have used visuals in court in a deposition. I said, “Here is the chart and the value you must consider.” One cannot be biased. That is important.

Noah Bolmer: Are there situations where your lawyer is trying to push you to say something in a certain way, but you are afraid it may implicate you, make you seem biased, and impeach you?

Lisa Barnes: My integrity is the most valuable thing I have. I do not feed into that.

Noah Bolmer: Speaking of ethics and integrity, when you are first vetting cases, do you turn down cases regularly or do you take most of what comes to you?

Lisa Barnes: It depends, I do evaluate it, but I am clear that I am not going to be prejudiced about the case. I am going to analyze it and unfortunately in the art world, there is so much fake and forgery even in wine collections that I appraise. There are many cases of fraud. One has to make sure you clearly define your posture when you go into a case. I put that in writing as well. I have a strict code of ethics. I have that power.

Noah Bolmer: When you are first vetting a case, do you find that they call somebody who sets off a red flag with any regularity? Are you like, “They are trying to make me do something unethical? I better not take this case.” Is that something that has happened to you?

Lisa Barnes: Yes, three things are important in your due diligence. Just being an expert, being sincere, investigating, and checking out others too. I do background checks because you do not always want to compromise your reputation instead of somebody getting a settlement or something like that.

Noah Bolmer: I want to jump back to you. You said that you were brought nearly to tears once in a case. Is that something that you feel your lawyer could have better prepared you for, or have you learned to separate your expertise and what you are doing from the case at hand and not take it personally? How do you deal with that?

Lisa Barnes: That was a tough one a couple of years ago, but perhaps my skin is tougher because I have gone through so many of them. I think one must reach out and be appropriate to the attorney that you are working with and follow what the engagement letter says about how you approach and value the situation. I have been in depositions where they said, “We are going to throw this out.” I think as an appraiser, we have certain checklists we need to follow as our due diligence. We are not to be manipulated by what an attorney might want us to say to manipulate the other side. That is a gray area. I guess that sounds right.

Noah Bolmer: Absolutely. You said that there are only 1,500 certified appraisers in this field. I assume you come across experts on the other side of a case who are familiar to you. Is that right? How does that relationship affect your performance cases? Are you ever worried about saying mean things that will upset this person in the same field to throw them under the bus or whatnot? I have heard of some of these niche fields.

Lisa Barnes: Someone on the bus.

Noah Bolmer: That can be something that is a struggle. Is that something that you found to be difficult?

Lisa Barnes: No. Your posture going into each case should be to define the case, and to define your relationship, but not go over the top. I have been privileged with many attorneys I want to work with across the country, like, a big case in Chicago where we sat for hours and talked. I would prepare them, and they prepared me, so it did not create a negative field. I do not let it affect me emotionally, when I am an expert witness, I follow them when they say, “Let’s go outside and talk about this. Let’s do this.” I am happy to say as an expert witness over the past 18 years, I have won every case on behalf of my clients, so it is a good margin.

Noah Bolmer: Sure. That is an interesting thing to bring up before we wrap up. That is one of the questions I ask every guest because everybody has a different take on this, which is how important winning is to you. Do you only take cases that you think are winnable? Do you follow it all the way through to the end and check in after your part is done? Do you continue to follow it and see if it is won or lost?

Lisa Barnes: To answer your question, yes, I will follow up throughout the case. If I am on retainer, I correspond with my client. Do I take on shady cases? No, I would not take one where there could be manipulation. The cases I take are with legitimate attorneys where the relationship is copacetic. That is important. The legal field and the art field are two different things. Like I said, if I feel something is not comfortable. I will not take it.

Noah Bolmer: Yeah. Now, say that it is something that you are comfortable with, and it is in your area of expertise. Great. But one of the facts did not turn out, or the jury just did not rule on your side. Is that something that is important to you? is that win-loss record something that is important to you?

Lisa Barnes: Honestly, even if I had a case that I lost I would not.

Noah Bolmer: You have not been in that position yet.

Lisa Barnes: Yeah. If I did, I could have a gripe. We have won all my cases, so I am not sure how I would respond. I would be sad, but if there was something that ethically bridged a situation, I would not want to compromise my integrity. So yeah of course.

Noah Bolmer: Of course. One final question. You said that you take a retainer, do recommend doing something else in addition to the retainer? Do you prefer hourly or project-based billing?

Lisa Barnes: If you do a project USPAP, you cannot charge a fee. You have to charge hourly or daily using standards established by the IRS.

Noah Bolmer: Interesting. So that is already taken care of.

Lisa Barnes: So, to be certified you must follow that criterion. Many people will say they are appraisers, but they can get hurt badly if they do not follow the guidelines.

Noah Bolmer: Does that affect your expert witness billing or is that only for appraising?

Lisa Barnes: My billing system is the same. It is the same regardless,

Noah Bolmer: Okay. Before we wrap up, do you have any last advice for expert witnesses who are getting started in different fields or for lawyers working with expert witnesses?

Lisa Barnes: My advice would be to make sure you check out an appraiser’s background. and make sure they have the experience to execute a proper performance. It is like being an actor sometimes. You have got to know what you are saying. You are on stage and have to look good. You have to know what to wear. Many things go into all of that. It is not easy because art is unique. You must be invested in what you tell your clients or their attorneys. I have been in courts and judges have said, “Oh my God, could you stay all day? This is so interesting.” Educate. Keep your words simple and appeal to people. Know your language and body posture. There are many ‘components’ that go into being an expert witness. It is not the way you look or the way you talk, but it is how you handle it.

Noah Bolmer: Making it accessible to your audience is something you find important. Thank you, Ms. Barnes, for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Lisa Barnes: Oh, I love it.

Noah Bolmer: All the sage advice.

Lisa Barnes: Oh, Noah, I love working with you.

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After a quarter century helping litigators find the right expert witnesses, Round Table Group’s network contains some of the world’s greatest experts. On the Discussions at the Round Table podcast, we talk to some of them about what’s new in their field of study and their experience as expert witnesses.

At the Round Table with Art Appraiser Expert, Lisa Barnes

Lisa Barnes, Owner at Rare Art Appraisals and Art Consultancy

Lisa Barnes is the owner and appraiser at Rare Art Appraisals and Art Consultancy. She specializes in appraising a wide range of items ranging from fine art to fine wine. She has nearly three decades of appraisal experience and is a sought-after expert witness.