In this episode…
Our guest, Steve Haas, is an expert witness with industry expertise spanning large and small retailers in both established and startup mode. His experience, both nationally and internationally, sets the stage for a vibrant conversation about work as a retail industry expert witness.
On this episode, Michelle Loux interviews Steve, discussing everything from preparing for expert witness interviews with attorneys, to writing expert reports, and body language in the courtroom. Steve also details his passion for the work, and how he hones his role working with legal teams striving for success.
Note: Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Host: Michelle Loux, Assistant Project Manager, Round Table Group
Guest: Steve Haas, Principal, Tailored Solutions
Michelle Loux: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Discussions at the Round Table. I am your host, Michelle Loux. My guest today is Steve Haas. He is the Principal at Tailored Solutions. Steve, thank you for joining us today. Tell us about your background and what it is that you do. How does retail lead to expert witness work?
Steve Haas: My background is primarily in large retail. I spent about 25 years in senior-level roles at Nordstrom and Macy’s in a cross-section of merchant finance roles, such as store operations, vendor negotiations, and everything that retailers do. All different models, stores, online, and full price off price promotional. Across most product categories. Then three years ago I moved into consulting where I worked primarily with small to mid-sized companies to help put structure and discipline in finances, forecasting, and inventory management that they did not need when they were in startup mode. There are some requirements they need to put in place, and I can help them scale profitably. This is related to expert witness work in that there are an unusual number of conflicts and cases regarding either the negotiation, management, and operations of the retail ecosystem. I have done work in licensing disputes, painting a picture of normal retail practices and if all sides were falling into the category of normal retail practices. The sides could make an argument for either. Mine was to bring a real-world framework that might sound outlandish but is a common practice. Conversely, something that might sound normal, but would never happen in the retail world. I have worked for both plaintiffs and defendants across a reasonably wide section of topics in the retail space. Everything from the manufacturing side to relationships with retailers, financial arrangements, and negotiations. An interesting cross-section that was not anything I ever envisioned getting into. I just sort of stumbled into it one day and then realized I liked the work. I liked the variety and a very deep dive into an interesting subject for a short time. It is something I have cultivated and want to do.
Michelle Loux: Were they looking for a particular expert, and they saw that you fulfilled those criteria?
Steve Haas: I was connected through some consulting platforms looking for industry experts to plug into people in the investment community, who are looking for quick hits on industry experts. They were doing research and they developed a legal wing. I was established on their platform and had a deep bio that matched up the first time. I realized several different platforms connect experts with counselors and provide matchmaking services. That is how I receive the bulk of my work.
Michelle Loux: You mentioned that you have experience with national and some international stores as well. Do you find that your cases are located across the United States, or have you received cases outside the United States as well?
Steve Haas: I have worked on both. The international component is generally related to issues with a United States-based retailer. It may have to do with manufacturing that is done overseas with a parent that is working with a US retailer on paper. My expertise extends to the US market, but to the degree that there is work done with foreign companies or with people working on the behalf of overseas factories, What I know and how I can apply it to these companies.
Michelle Loux: Do you have any special tools or phone apps to organize your time? Are you at a point where you have multiple cases going on at once and you are trying to stay on top of them?
Steve Haas: I generally do not have more than a couple of cases at a time. I have been able to do it old school on a calendar with tracking hours. In different ways, depending on how someone wants it done, but I would welcome the problem of having so many cases that I was having trouble keeping tabs on them. That has not been a problem to date. I can manage my calendar. The beauty of most of this work I have found is largely self-directed. It means I have committed to an X number of hours a week, so there is no problem with conflicting cases. It is more a matter of me carving out the time to make sure that I can meet the time requirements and tripping over one another from a scheduling standpoint.
Michelle Loux: Right. How about when you enter that first conversation with the attorney when they are just outlining the case matter, how do you prepare for that? What questions would you ask them in that first interview?
Steve Haas: My objective in a first interview, other than discovering if my background experience is what they are want. To make sure that I am comfortable with the side that I would be representing. I have yet to come across one where I was not. I have colleagues who heard the merits of a case, understood what council was looking for and said, “This is not a position I would like to support or defend.” For me, it is a matter of understanding the high-level points of the case. Does it match up with my background? What do they want? A witness report, a deposition, or supporting testimony. As much as I enjoy this, I do not ever want to find myself on the side of something where I am defending or advocating for something that counters my beliefs.
Michelle Loux: Do you write many expert witness reports? Have you been deposed versus testifying? What happens the most for you?
Steve Haas: I have done multiple depositions and even more expert witness reports. I have found that most cases are settled before they go to court. I have had a couple we thought would end up at trial, but they settled. I have done expert reports for every case I have had. Some have needed multiples as they were rebuttals to a closing council. It has been a combination of these two to date.
Michelle Loux: You touched on witness coaching. What did that look like to you? How did they prepare you for that?
Steve Haas: It was interesting, and was more what to expect from opposing counsel. How to interpret what a question means? How to stay focused on the guardrails of what I was asked to provide? An expert opinion on the risks of going beyond the question and trying to look knowledgeable and the traps I could create for myself by talking. You are doing more than simply answering the questions asked.
Michelle Loux: Did you find that was in person or on video calls with the attorneys? How did they prepare you for that?
Steve Haas: It has all been video. The attorneys brought in witness coaches. They were up to speed on the merits of the case. I would say 70% of witness prep could have applied universally. 30% was unique to this case. We spent a few hours answering questions and topics to avoid. Most of the training was on demeanor, style, tone, word choice, and the use and avoidance of absolutes. When you hear about these things, it makes a world of sense. They do not necessarily play into our day-to-day lives. It was working on the delivery and message to make sure that it was positioned and communicated most advantageously.
Michelle Loux: Interesting, I had another guest on the show not too long ago, and we talked about body posture and the psychology of presenting yourself to the jurors. It is always good to hear that there are witness coaching and learning moments that change your approach to being an expert witness.
Steve Haas: There are numerous related topics of which I am knowledgeable. They are either irrelevant to the case or can undermine the side I am representing by going into too much detail or opening up another line of questioning or discussion. It takes a little doing. It is expanding on that exact topic and putting guardrails around how far to go from the center I am willing to stray. It is never taking the bait from opposing counsel. Their goal often is to throw witnesses off their game in a deposition. Early on, I had a counselor help me with what to expect. Here is how he is going to ask a question. His goal is to get you to be offended or react badly. At that point, you lose your train of thought and focus. I have been an expert for years, and I hope the questions follow the exact sequence he predicted. This counselor was trying to prevent me from being caught in the opposing counselor’s trap. I have always tucked away that opposing counsel is doing their job, but they are not my friend. I am not looking to make a friend. I am looking to share my expert knowledge on a topic. No matter how inflammatory or condescending the opposing counsel may be, it is in the client’s and my interest to stay on an even keel.
Michelle Loux: Have you ever been in a position where an opposing counsel has hired you as an expert for their matter?
Steve Haas: No, I have not.
Michelle Loux: It could happen though.
Steve Haas: That would be the ultimate validation, that A, you are good at expressing your opinion, and B, you are knowledgeable about the topic you are discussing. Yes, I would welcome that.
Michelle Loux: What are the best tips and practices for writing the report?
Steve Haas: For me, the overarching goal is a couple of things. The first is to communicate my point of view and my position on the argument. Secondly, many times my point of view and argument position is technical. The communication of these to the jurors in a way that someone who has not lived and breathed this for decades can understand is necessary. Not any different than writing a college essay. What do I want to say, and how do I communicate it? What is the sequence in which the story makes sense? How do I step back and use anecdotes and stay away from industry jargon? Anything that someone who does not know this can say, “Oh, I can relate to that,” or “That does not seem fair, or “Of course, that is. OK, to do.” It is a matter of trying to give testimony where your goal is not to lose the jury’s attention by using terms they do not understand or bore them to death. How do I communicate effectively and powerfully and do it in a way that the average juror can understand my approach? Examples and anecdotes help bring things to life versus just being an unfamiliar abstract topic.
Michelle Loux: Is there any particular case that stands out in your mind as being a defining moment for you?
Steve Haas: I worked on a case where there was an accusation of financial impropriety against a brand accused of financial maneuvering inconsistent with industry reporting standards and best practices. Before my initial conversation with Council, I read they provided their rebuttal to the complaint. During my first conversation, they asked, “What do you think of it?” I said, “Someone with no understanding of how retail works wrote this complaint.” Every brand and retailer do these things. It is easy to get tangled up when you do not understand the inner workings of this field. It helped me understand my value is not that I have any detailed insight gained from having a higher intellect. It is from having done a job for many years and being able to say this is how this works and explain the financial relationship and competitive motivations behind that behavior and why people do or do not do it. It was an epiphany that I do not have to shine a light on an obscure fact. My industry knowledge is valuable to people trying to assess what happened.
Michelle Loux: Interesting. Any last stories or insights you would like to end with about being an expert witness?
Steve Haas: No. I enjoy getting dialed into a case, working with counsel, and trying to craft my role to make it a powerful part of what they are trying to prove or disprove. In most cases, I add value by understanding the details and listening carefully to counsel. Providing feedback is second nature to me. It is where I help prove or disprove a case.
Michelle Loux: There is value in that.
Steve Haas: Yes, there is.
Michelle Loux: Thank you, Steve, for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Steve Haas: Thank you for having me.
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.
Steve Haas is the Principal at Tailored Solutions, and a dynamic executive with broad retail experience in planning, buying, merchandising, and operations and has a consistent track record of delivering results across diverse product categories within multiple national retailers.
Manufacturing is the process of transforming raw materials, parts or pieces into finished goods using tools, machinery and human labor. Assembly lines and advanced technology are used in large scale manufacturing of goods.
Negotiation is the bargaining process between two or more parties. Each side has their own requirement, goals, and perspectives. They seek to find common ground, reach an agreement, settle a problem that affects both sides, or settle a conflict. Through the negotiating process, the parties try to avoid arguing and reach a compromise.
Retail is the sale of goods in small quantities to the public for use or ingestion, instead of resale. Retail sales are conducted in brick and mortar stores and online, where the retail industry provides the customer with a large range of goods and services.