Examining the current legal environment facing the public accounting professions: Recommendations for a consistent U.S. policy.
We examine the recent history and trends of U.S. auditor liability to third parties to help regulators and legislators develop policies to protect and maintain audit quality while limiting auditor liability exposure. Although the United States has yet developed a formal policy to address auditor liability, some European Union member countries and Australia, in varying degrees, support such limitation. Thus, we also explore current EU and Australian policies as examples of potential recommendations to U.S. policy makers. In light of a litigious environment, U.S. Certified Public Accounting firms generally accept potential clients only after analyzing potential risks, dismiss many risky clients, raise their total or hourly fees, spend more time examining attestation evidence, and perform other procedures to reduce their litigation risk. This risk arises largely from the federal and state legal systems, assuming that auditors can better absorb and control losses from misleading financial statements than can financial statement users. While culpable, this litigious environment led to the demise of two large international Certified Public Accounting firms—Arthur Andersen and Laventhol & Horwath. Is the global economy better off having fewer accounting firms with the capacity to perform international audits? A Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s recent Exposure Draft would require auditors of issuers to expand significantly their audit reports beyond current Pass/Fail standards, which could increase audit firms’ disclosures and resultant liabilities. After examining U.S. federal and state statutes plus court decisions regarding auditor liability, we suggest methods to protect the public while allowing audit firms to thrive in these environments.
Reinstein, A., Pacini, C.J. & Green, B.P. (2017). Examining the current legal environment facing the public accounting professions: Recommendations for a consistent U.S. policy. Journal of Accounting, Auditing & Finance, doi: 10.1177/0148558X16680717
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