This salutary item is drawn from my talk and ebook on risk management and how to avoid professional negligence claims. The 2013 professional negligence case of Mehjoo and Harben Barker effectively endorsed the advice I had already been giving for years – even though many other commentators believed otherwise.
Assume for a moment that a client is dissatisfied with your work. Maybe you’ve made a simple mistake. Maybe it was more complex. Maybe you’ve been negligent (allegedly).
If the client brings a formal claim against you what is the standard of care against which your work and advice will be judged?
Does it make any difference whether you hold yourself out to be a specialist or a generalist? It seems not.
If a general practitioner undertakes a task for which specialists are often engaged, the question to be asked is: Why wasn’t a specialist engaged on this occasion?
The chances are that the generalist will be judged as to the standards expected of a specialist because of the explicit obligation on all of us to only do work ourselves that we have sufficient experience and knowledge to undertake. To take one example – The guide to professional conduct for those advising on tax explicitly tells us that we should seek assistance if a client needs help or advice as regards an issue that we are not competent to deal with ourselves.
The lesson is clear: If a client needs help and you’re not confident that you have the necessary knowledge and experience to give definitive advice, don’t wing it. Find someone else in your firm or elsewhere who does have the necessary experience and knowledge to confidently give definitive advice.
When I was in practice I kept in mind the old maxim: Would I be happy to encourage my parents to act on my advice? If I wasn’t sure I got someone else’s input. I believe all ambitious accountants should do the same thing.
Readers of this blog are welcome to seek specialist tax advice and support from members of the UK’s largest network of independent tax advisers: The Tax Advice Network