Accountants: Do Not Let Your Best Marketing Tool Become Your Worst Nightmare in Litigation

In this digital age, almost every accounting firm has an attractive website which touts the firm’s expertise and experience in a wide range of services. Accounting firms recognize that an impressive website can be an effective marketing tool to prospective clients, and can also assist current clients in determining additional services which the client may find of interest. However, in the unfortunate event that a legal claim is brought against your accounting firm, you should be aware that the firm website may often serve as Exhibit “A” in support of the claim.

In particular, a professional services website often includes marketing words and phrases that are directed at putting the firm in the best light possible to its current and potential clients. Undeniably, this is a goal of the website. Yet, it is also undeniable that professional services websites are known to include “fluff” statements pertaining to the firm’s capabilities and services. While your firm’s marketing agency may extol the marketing benefits of such statements, your firm’s lawyer would likely advise against such statements — for good reason. You cannot anticipate that a jury will be capable of deciphering the differences between a marketing tool and reality.
In order to reduce your firm’s exposure in the event of a claim, it would be prudent to consider the following items with respect to your firm’s website:

  1. Does your website accurately reflect the services that your firm is capable and qualified to provide to its clients? For example, many accounting firm websites state the fact that the firm provides financial advisement to its clients. Quite simply, unless your firm is truly capable of providing financial advisement to its clients, and in fact does so, your website should not include such a statement. Otherwise, when a client’s investment portfolio takes a hit, you may be sued for the investment decisions your client made without your guidance or input. In this case, your website will almost certainly be used against you.
  2. If you are solely a tax accountant, do not include words such as “analysis,” “scrutinize,” or “examine,” with respect to the services you provide to your clients. The preparation of tax returns generally permits an accountant to rely upon the supporting documentation provided by the client. Thus, an accountant would not be analyzing, scrutinizing, or examining the supporting documentation. In the event a client’s investment performs poorly, you do not want to be accused of being responsible for analyzing financial documentation provided by your client when preparing tax returns. Importantly, this point also applies to invoices related to the preparation of tax returns.
  3. Keep your website updated. If an accountant’s qualifications or scope of services provided to clients changes, make sure the website reflects the same. If an accountant leaves the firm, make sure to promptly remove the accountant’s biography from the website. An outdated or inaccurate website may unnecessarily lead to trouble in litigation.

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