An accountant does not have a common law lien upon books and other materials of his/her client based merely upon possession. However, an accountant can acquire a statutory lien on a client’s books and records that s/he has worked upon, and improved or extended[i].
In Scott Shoe Machinery Co. v. Broaker, 35 Misc. 382 (N.Y. City Ct. 1901), a client hired accountants to examine and investigate accounts contained in certain books at an agreed price to prepare a report. After the examination was made, and when only half of the price was paid, the accountants claimed a common law lien on the books and refused to return them. Upon the filing of an action by the client against this, the court concluded that there was no such thing as an accountant’s lien. Accordingly, an accountant cannot hold documents given to him/her by a client, if the client fails to pay the accountant[ii].
If the fee or compensation of a public or a certified public accountant is not fixed by the contract of employment, s/he will be entitled to get paid to the services rendered by him/her. This depends upon the circumstances of the particular case.
A certified public accountant who fails to register as required by statute will be denied the right to recover for his/her services[iii]. If the services rendered constitute any unauthorized practice of law, then the recovery for services rendered will also be denied[iv].
If an accountant creates inaccuracies negligently and if s/he fails to report facts of serious nature, then s/he will not be entitled to any compensation[v]. However, accountants will be entitled to recover their fees, if the services are not performed that negligently[vi].
[i] Myra Found. v. Harvey, 100 N.W.2d 435 (N.D. 1959)
[ii] Blum v. Blum, 769 So. 2d 1142 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. 2000)
[iii] Van Horn v. Vining, 133 So. 2d 901, 907 (La. Ct. App. 1961)
[iv] Agran v. Shapiro, 127 Cal. App. 2d Supp. 807 (Cal. App. Dep’t Super. Ct. 1954)
[v] Western Surety Co. v. Loy, 3 Kan. App. 2d 310 (Kan. Ct. App. 1979)
[vi] Teunissen v. Orkin Exterminating Co., 484 N.W.2d 589 (Iowa 1992)