Art of Accounting: Referral from an Adversary

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IMGCAP(1)]One time I received a call with a referral from another professional that was an adversary in a contentious deal on which I represented a client. I thanked him but expressed surprise since we seemed to always be at each other’s throats.

He replied, “The deal got done, didn’t it?” Of course I said yes. He said, “So why shouldn’t I recommend you if you did a great job representing your client? That’s what I need you to do here.”

Everyone is a referral source. Adversaries don’t seem like they would be, but when you vigorously represent your client, are fair, listen to the other side’s issues, don’t lie, keep your commitments, are on top of everything that is happening, do what you say you will do, and don’t let yourself get pulled away from the important objective, people develop respect for you—even if you are the “enemy.”

This has happened enough times to make me realize this is a viable way to get referrals. What you cannot do is hint in the slightest way that you expect something in return or would appreciate referrals. That, in my opinion, creates a conflict of interest, wiping out any credibility you might have had. Do your job as best as anyone could.

A few times it has been hinted to me that I might get recommendations in the future. That is a bribe, and any indication you are interested in that is also a conflict of interest, reducing your effectiveness.
Know what you need to do for your client and get it done. Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked or look for other work. You cannot dance at two weddings at the same time.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner in WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He has authored 20 books and has written hundreds of articles for business and professional journals and newsletters plus a Tax Loophole article for every issue of TaxHotline for 27 years. Ed also writes a blog twice a week that addresses issues his clients have at He is the winner of the Lawler Award for the best article published during 2001 in the Journal of Accountancy. He has also taught in the MBA graduate program at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court. Ed welcomes practice management questions and he can be reached at WithumSmith+Brown, One Spring Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, (732) 964-9329,

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