This study examines the association between audit fees and earnings management, using publicly available fee data. We hypothesize that, due to asymmetric litigation effects, audit fees decrease (increase) with a client's risk of income‐decreasing (increasing) earnings management risk. We also hypothesize that the positive relation between income‐increasing earnings management risk and audit fees is heightened for clients that are high‐growth firms. We test our hypotheses with a sample of 429 public, non‐regulated, Big 5 audited companies, using fee data for the year 2000. We find that downward earnings management risk, as estimated by negative (i.e., income‐decreasing) discretionary accruals, is associated with lower audit fees. We also document that upward earnings management risk, as estimated by positive discretionary accruals, is associated with higher audit fees and that the interaction of this risk with an industry‐adjusted price‐earnings ratio has an incrementally significant, positive effect on fees. We interpret our findings as consistent with a conservative bias on the part of auditors. The conservative bias arises from asymmetric litigation risk in which income‐increasing discretionary accruals exhibit greater expected litigation costs than income‐decreasing discretionary accruals (Simunic and Stein 1996; Palmrose and Scholz 2004; Palmrose et al. 2004; Richardson et al. 2002; Heninger 2001).

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