SUMMARY

U.S. auditors are concerned that less precise accounting standards will cause more second-guessing of their judgments and thus greater legal liability. We report the results of an experiment that tests the validity of this concern. We manipulate the aggressiveness of the client's reporting decision and the precision of the accounting guidance related to the reporting decision. When the client's reporting is conservative, we observe more second-guessing of auditor judgments under the imprecise standard than the precise standard. However, when the auditor allows aggressive client reporting, we observe less tendency toward second-guessing under the imprecise standard. Indeed, rather than being overly harsh, juries appear to be overly lenient when auditors allow aggressive accounting under an imprecise standard. Our results suggest a need for tools to help jurors evaluate auditor judgments under imprecise standards.

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