Lawyers and accountants slug it out over figures

LAWYERS and accountants are to climb into the ring to wrestle over a major issue dividing the two professions.

The issue this time is a technical, rather than cultural, one. It focuses on a tiny but hugely significant accounting rule which accountants and lawyers interpret differently.

The rule, put out by the Accounting Standards Board on accounting for employee share ownership plans (ESOPs), can dramatically affect the figures on company balance sheets.

Top lawyers in share scheme work, including partners Janet Cooper of Linklater & Paines and David Reid of Clifford Chance, will meet leading accountants in a seminar and debate later this month.

Linklaters' Janet Cooper said of the contentious accounting rule: “There is definite confusion over how to implement this. It can distort a company's balance sheet figures, which then may not give an accurate reflection of the company's affairs.”

She said: “Lawyers and accountants come at it from a different perspective.”

Malcolm Hurlston, chair of the ESOP Centre which is organising the professional scrap, said there was confusion about the ruling.

“We hope that by locking lawyers and accountants in a room together we can come to a consensus on how the rule should apply. We may let them out before blood is spilt.”

When asked who would win, Cooper said: “We won't know until the game is over.”

The seminar will take place at the Howard Hotel in London on 22 November.