CPA firms have access to numerous types of client records, and requests for those records can come from multiple sources. What should a CPA firm do when a request for access to such records comes in the form of a subpoena?
The following seven steps should help a CPA in deciding how to respond to a subpoena.
- Consult with an attorney. A CPA firm should first consult with an attorney and/or its professional liability insurer before contacting a client or responding to such a request. This will ensure that any limitations on sharing the information are fully understood and addressed.
- Analyze the subpoena. Let your attorney identify where the subpoena came from and determine the rules and laws in play with a response. The CPA and attorney should also determine exactly what records are covered in the subpoena.
- Do you possess the information? Now that you have consulted with an attorney, the firm should move forward and gather pertinent information to the case in question. Review the request carefully if it is for documentation or information and assess whether the firm is in fact in possession of the items in question.
- Notify the client. The firm should notify the client whose information is being subpoenaed and discuss the scope of the request.
- Do not volunteer information. Providing anything outside the scope of the subpoena is a violation of the Internal Revenue Code.
- Are you required to comply with the subpoena? Not all subpoenas are valid. Consult with your attorney to ensure the request is proper and enforceable before you respond to an invalid subpoena.
- Report the subpoena to your professional liability agent or carrier. Regardless of how much information you have and whether or not you are obligated to comply, always report the subpoena to your professional liability insurer.
- The receipt of a subpoena can be a intimidating undertaking, but hopefully these simple steps help firms understand the nature of subpoenas and how CPA firms should respond.