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Bankrupt accountants and lawyers: Transition in the rise of professionalism in Victorian Scotland

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to study the incidence, impact, and consequences of accountant and lawyer bankruptcies in Victorian Scotland. The paper examines these bankruptcies in the context of an emerging profession separating from an established legal profession as part of the rise of professionalism in the Victorian Age. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper reports data describing 135 accountant and 361 lawyer bankruptcies declared between 1855 and 1904. It uses theories of the rise of professionalism, signals of movement to occupational ascendancy, and social attitudes to money to provide explanations of the incidence, impact, and consequences of these bankruptcies. The paper also examines bankruptcy and the early disciplinary codes of professional accountancy associations. Findings ‐ Despite a trend of general decline in total, accountant, and lawyer bankruptcies in Scotland through the Victorian Age, there is no consistency over time between accountant and lawyer bankruptcies and economic conditions. Bankrupt accountants were typically unregulated as professionals in contrast with bankrupt lawyers who were usually regulated. Accountant and lawyer bankruptcies predominantly involved experienced practitioners, location in major cities, and administration by professional accountants. Bankruptcy was associated with criminal activity in a minority of cases in each profession. There was inconsistency in the post-bankruptcy disciplining of bankrupt accountants and lawyers, and post-bankruptcy loss of economic status in both professions. Practical implications ‐ The paper contributes to the Victorian history of institutionalised professions such as accounting and law. It demonstrates the presence of marginal practitioners in emerging and established professions, the need to study professionalisation in social context, and the impact of bankruptcy on discipline in an emerging profession. Originality/value ‐ The paper represents the first contextualised study of bankruptcy among professionals generally and accountants and lawyers, particularly in the Victorian Age.
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Keywords: Accountants; Bankruptcy; Disciplinary code; Fraud; Lawyers; Marginal practitioner; Money; Occupational ascendancy; Professionalism; Professions; Public accountancy; Scotland

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-09-20

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