10 practical tips to avoid professional negligence claims

Nov 29, 2022 | Professional Negligence

This blog post is drawn from my presentations during a virtual conference for CIOT – to help raise funds for two worthy tax charities, TaxAid and Tax help for older people.

Having agreed to speak on the subject I drew on material I had used in the past and updated my slides where appropriate. My fellow speakers who deal with this sort of thing all the time confirmed that my advice was timeless. It is as relevant now as it was 15 years ago. Indeed, some of it dates back to the mid 1990s when I first acted as an expert witness in professional negligence matters.

Much has changed over the years since I stopped doing that sort of work but, what hasn’t changed, it seems, are the essentials of good advice as to how you can avoid professional negligence claims.

Here are my 10 top tips:

1 – When advising clients, always state the known facts and assumptions on which your advice is based – in writing;

2 – Create contemporaneous notes of all material advice and of the assumptions you provide during meetings and telephone conversations;

3 – When advising, ask yourself whether you’d be happy for a close friend or family member to rely on the advice. If you’re not sure, do additional research, get a second opinion or involve a specialist colleague or a trusted third-party (using a service such as FindAtaxAdviser.online)

4 – When advising clients of forthcoming deadlines, focus their attention on the date that you need the information to beat the statutory deadline;

5 – Avoid under-pricing work and introducing time-pressure that could exacerbate mistakes;

6 –Stick to what you know. If a client requires or requests advice on subjects outside of your comfort zone, involve a specialist colleague or a trusted third-party;

7 – Stop working for those clients who are more trouble than they are worth. These are the clients who resist paying decent fees, don’t contribute to the growth of your practice and who are most likely to complain, given half a chance.

8 – Manage client expectations and avoid over-promising and under-delivery. Remember that a client’s perception of what is reasonable here may be very different from yours.

9 – Ensure that you and your entire team understand the implied promises in your letters of engagement and your standard terms of business.

10 – Ensure you keep your knowledge up to date – eg: with the weekly practical topical tax tips for accountants in general practice from the Tax Advice Network.

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