Need to suggest client seek legal advice - how do I word this to them?


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I am a bookkeeper. In working in my client's files, I have found some discrepancies and I want to let them know about these discrepancies and that I think they should seek some professional advice (from a CPA or tax accountant for example)regarding how they should be handled, but I don't want to be liable for any suggestion that I might make (i.e. providing inaccurate legal or tax advice) or even in my suggestion that they seek out council. How should I go about phrasing this to my client? It will be in email form for record tracking/keeping purposes.

Legal Bookkeeping

asked Aug 10 '12 at 15:01
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James
1 point
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  • Don't call them "discrepancies", "irregularities" or be definite about what you think you saw. You could say that you have some questions that would need to be answered by a CPA. Write down the questions and suggest your client contact his CPA and ask why such and such entry is booked as is. – Frenchie 8 years ago
  • What do I do if my client doesn't have a CPA? – James 8 years ago
  • Do I need to specifically note that I am not in anyway giving them legal advice nor do I have the authority to do so? – James 8 years ago
  • If the client doesn't have a CPA, tell him to get one. – User60812 8 years ago

1 Answer


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You suggesting they seek advice from a CPA in no way makes you liable for anything

It should responsibility to your client if anything. In the US you can't be liable for something that is outside your scope of expertise. That is to say, if you are not a CPA, and there is a question as to whether something is depreciated correctly and you refer it to an accountant. If it's not correctly depreciated, and IRS finds out, they will likely not try to go after you; maybe just ask you some questions.

You simply need to tell your client, that there are things you need clarification on. You're a bookkeeper, a bookkeeper's job is to be factual, not analytic. That is to say, you report what you see, not try to determine the legality of it. An error, prevents you from doing your job, thus the client needs to clarify it for you. Sample:

Dear Joe Doe,
Upon maintenance of your accounts, I have found some items I would like clarification on:

Item1: abc

Reason: abc

Item2: abc

Reason: abc

Please request from your accountant the explanation for these items, so I may record these correctly and avoid future problems.

Mary Doe

One very important thing is don't give advice. Mainly this isn't due necessarily to the advice's legal liability, but if there is a criminal issue (i.e. tax evasion) it may show that you had knowledge of the infraction, and didn't report it to the authorities. Unfortunately, bookkeepers can't exercise attorney-client privilege. If you'd like to do it a simpler way, just talk to the client personally face to face, and in a friendly way let him know. This way you can exercise plausible deniability

answered Aug 11 '12 at 00:03
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User60812
820 points
  • thanks for this great informative response. although you say not to give advice - telling my client that they should seek the advice of a CPA, wouldn't be considered "advice" per se, correct? – James 8 years ago
  • no that's basically saying, hey i'm not an accountant so you should ask someone who knows. Advice would be, hey these tax returns don't look legit, you should ..... – User60812 8 years ago

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