Research on the association between abnormal audit fees (measuring audit effort) and financial misconduct has produced mixed results. The use of actual misstatements in this research creates small-sample inferences, introduces systematic selection bias, and reduces the scope of sample coverage. In this study we use a metric based on Benford's Law to analyze the impact of abnormal audit fees on the likelihood of misconduct. This measure is parsimonious, avoids selection bias, and can be computed for a large sample of public firms. Consistent with theory, we find that greater audit effort reduces the likelihood of misconduct and auditor resignations are more likely for clients with higher misconduct likelihood. Our findings are not driven by audit firm size, client size, the governance structure of the client, or economic bonding explanations. The effect is not subsumed when controlling for alternative misconduct measurement metrics and is robust across multiple tests to address endogeneity.
JEL Classifications: G32; M41.