At a glance
By Nina Hendy
Lawyers cannot provide accounting advice and accountants cannot provide legal advice. However, they often need to liaise with one another and can and should establish good working relationships.
CPA Australia spoke to an accountant and a lawyer to gain greater insight into the arrangement.
The lawyer’s view: Anna Hacker, national manager estate planning, Australian Unity Trustees
There aren’t many days in a week when Anna Hacker isn’t discussing estate planning with a client’s accountant.
While lawyers and accountants have long put their heads together to improve client outcomes, it is becoming more common, she says.
“Clients are utilising increasingly complex structures to manage their personal and business affairs, which is driving a growth in collaboration between the two parties.”
The first step before any conversations take place is to ensure the shared client has consented to release all relevant documentation.
“Being fastidious about the handling of documents is standard process,” Hacker says. “Free-flow of information is paramount to ensuring best outcomes.
“When we go into a client meeting together, we both need to have a complete view of what the outcome of that meeting should be. It’s really important that the two parties can work efficiently and effectively together and mutual trust and respect is a huge part of that.”
Constant change to superannuation law is one factor that has spurred the need for ongoing collaboration between accountants and lawyers, while wills and power of attorney documents also require significant back and forth.
“Quite often clients believe things like estate planning are simple, but the reality is that [even seemingly straightforward] matters that need documenting can be quite complex. Family trusts, for example, are common and while a client will usually have it all in place, it needs to be much more organised when it comes to documentation.”
Anna Hacker is national manager estate planning, Australian Unity Trustees
The accountant’s view: Ian Raspin FCPA, director estates and trusts, BNR Partners
An increasingly litigious and complex environment is driving the need for accountants and lawyers to work more closely together, according to Ian Raspin.
“The world has changed and these days even people without complex business structures in place need professional advisors,” he says.
Accordingly, sometimes financial planners also become a part of the mix.
“All three professionals have very different skillsets that can have interwoven implications for mutual clients,” Raspin notes.
An accounting practitioner for 15 years, Raspin has invested heavily in building his reputation and credibility throughout the legal sector. Indeed, he regularly works in tandem with Anna Hacker as well as other lawyers.
He says the best way to approach the relationship is for accountants to remember that they’re not lawyers and therefore shouldn’t feel threatened by the need to collaborate with them. In fact, the legal fraternity can be a good source of referrals, he adds.
“There are so many opportunities for the two parties to work together,” Raspin maintains.
“Lawyers can be a strong source of referred work if you’re willing to accept that they’re not trying to tread on your turf and instead embrace the opportunities that working together presents.
“It is impossible for any professional to have all the answers. Lawyers will often take time to refer to the relevant Act or case precedent before moving forward.
“Accountants should likewise be comfortable in saying they will need to look [further] into a matter before providing an answer. This can do a lot for their credibility.”
Of course, because both professions talk a very different “language”, it is important to ensure a full understanding of what the other is trying to convey and to not take anything for granted.
As lawyers will usually communicate in writing, it is often a good idea for accountants to do the same which, Raspin believes, can also help to build rapport.
Ian Raspin FCPA is director estates and trusts, BNR Partners
Top tips for accountants and lawyers to work together
- Establish a clear document handling process.
- Invest in building a trusted working relationship.
- Respect and understand that each party has different technical skills and speak different professional languages.
- Have a conversation about a mutual client’s needs ahead of jointly meeting with the client.
- Focus on doing what’s best for the client. Referrals come as a result of meeting client needs and successful cooperation with other professionals.