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Journal cover: Managerial Finance

Managerial Finance

ISSN: 0307-4358

Online from: 1975

Subject Area: Accounting and Finance

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Mitigating The Auditor's Legal Risk


Document Information:
Title:Mitigating The Auditor's Legal Risk
Author(s):Marianne Jennings. J.D., Dan C. Kneer, Ph.D., CPA, Philip M.J. Reckers, Ph.D.
Citation:Marianne Jennings. J.D., Dan C. Kneer, Ph.D., CPA, Philip M.J. Reckers, Ph.D., (1996) "Mitigating The Auditor's Legal Risk", Managerial Finance, Vol. 22 Iss: 9, pp.61 - 85
Article type:General review
DOI:10.1108/eb018581 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:MCB UP Ltd
Abstract:“The definition of auditing calls for the communication of the degree of correspondence between assertions and established criteria” [ASOBAC, 1973]. As the profession has rejected adoption of universal quantitative definitions of materiality as infeasible [FASB, 1979], Don Leslie [1984] recommended adoption of a standard requiring disclosure of specific engagement materiality thresholds in the auditor's report. This study examines how such disclosures might affect perceptions of an auditor's culpability and liability in instances where post publication errors are discovered which alternately aggregate to more or less than reported materiality thresholds. A behavioral experiment was conducted in which eighty-seven U.S. general jurisdiction judges participated. Findings support the potential for meaningful modifications to the standard auditor's report to reduce perceived auditor liability but also note the importance of jurists' pre-experimental attitudes and beliefs respecting the public accounting profession. In 1985, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants published Materiality: The Concept and its Application to Auditing [CICA, 1985]. In that research study, Don Leslie focused on his perceptions of the communication deficiencies of the standard form audit report used in Canada and the U.S. — the most critical of which he found to be the continuing lack of a quantitative definition of materiality. Leslie's remedy for the problem was novel and controversial even if his recognition of this problem was not without precedent. Leslie did not recommend the prompt adoption of universal, quantitative materiality standards (a proposal which has stalemated progress in the profession for years) but rather adoption of a standard making it compulsory that auditors disclose their individual materiality standards, whatever they may be, on each specific audit, in the audit report. To date, no serious research has examined this proposal since the report's publication, and yet the costs of the communications gap between accounting/auditing professionals and the public seem to be getting greater. The Auditing Standards Board recently readdressed the communications provided by the standard form audit report. One of the clearest observa-tions to emerge from those deliberations was that there is a lack of reliable research data upon which to base regulatory decisions in this area [Elliott and Jacobson, 1987]. This paper contributes to reduce that vacuum. Specifically, on the following pages we outline the genesis of a research project and the findings of that study in which eighty-seven (87) U.S. judges evaluated whether and to what degree an altered form of the audit report (including quantitative definition of materiality) would reduce the assessed culpability and legal liability of auditors. The remaining sections of this paper are organized as follows: in section one, we will summarize representative recent relevant literature; in section two, we develop testable hypotheses from that background literature; in section three, we provide a description of the design of our study; in section 4, our findings are reported and in section 5 we discuss implications for practice and future research.


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