Signs Big 4 Accounting Firms May Present Business Owners and Managers with Practical Alternatives to U.S. Law Firms (Part 3 of 3)

I ended Part 2 of this three-part post with this:

“Naysayers contend that Big 4 accounting firms cannot enter the U.S. market for legal services due to ‘regs and laws’ the ‘preclude Big 4 entry’.

“Is that really true?”   

No, it’s not.

First — Big 4 accounting firms’ entry into the U.S. market for legal services has already begun — as I’ve covered in past posts:

  • PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) opened a law firm in Washington, D.C. in September 2017.
  • Deloitte UK and the San-Francisco-headquartered immigration law firm of Berry, Appleman & Leiden LLP announced an agreement that gives U.S. businesses access to Deloitte Global’s immigration law services worldwide — including in the U.S. — in June 2018.
  • EY (Ernst & Young) announced its acquisition of Riverview Law in August 2018 — a UK-based “alternative legal service provider” — what some call a “law company”.

Second, former Am Law 200 partner Stephen Embry makes the case that the above moves are only a part of larger developments across the Big 4 accounting firms that signal their likely entry into the U.S. market for legal services in a big way.

In his article earlier this month, “U.S. Law and the Big Four: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?“, Embry does a deep dive on statements of two lawyers who presented at a recent conference for business lawyers:

  • Rutger Lambriex, a lawyer from the Netherlands who’s the worldwide head of EY Legal — EY’s (Ernst & Young’s) worldwide legal services provider, and
  • Jeremy Fudge, a U.S. lawyer based in Texas with the immigration law firm Barry Appleman Leiden —  a law firm that formed an alliance with Big 4 accounting firm Deloitte in 2018 to practice immigration law in multiple countries.

Embry cites Lambriex’ and Fudge’s public observations at this conference to make these points:

1. The Big 4 accounting firms have already shown that they’re serious about integrating legal services into their overall offerings outside the U.S.

Stephen Embry:

“But you say, Big 4 isn’t interested in our market. Lambriex says EY already offers legal services in conjunction with their business advice in 80 countries around the world. 80. Right now says Lambriex there are only 2 places EY can’t offer legal services and the U.S. is one.”

And what’s true of EY is true of the Big 4 as a whole. From a post I wrote last September:

“Outside the U.S. the Big Four’s presence in the legal industry’s landscape is old news. Each has ‘an average of 2,200 lawyers working for them in 72 countries (see here and here)’.”

2. The Big 4 accounting firms view the U.S. legal services market — in particular — as an opportunity.

Stephen Embry:

“… Listen to what Lambriex says: The U.S. legal market ‘is a fragmented market and we want to grow’. Translation: We see big upside opportunities. ‘It’s the mid-tier firms in the US that are most at risk.’ Translation: We see lots of opportunity there. He goes on, ‘law firms must change their business model, or many won’t exist in a few years.’ And finally ‘our clients are very upset with the way their lawyers treat them’.

Sound like a guy not interested in our market? ….

3. It’s true that state bar authorities determine who can “practice law” within their jurisdictions — and that many view these regulatory bodies as attorneys protecting their own markets for services — but this is not the impediment to Big 4 entry into their legal market that some attorneys in the U.S. hope for.

Embry:

“You say our regs and laws will preclude Big 4 entry. The alliance between Barry Appleman Leiden [the San Franciso-headquartered immigration law firm with offices in multiple countries] and Deloitte belies that theory. They already found a way … to ally and grow together profitably without running afoul of the legal regulations. And if corporate America, who the Big 4 represent, starts demanding a loosening of regulation, will the legal industry be able to withstand the pressure?” 

Stephen Embry concludes:

“And what does it mean for the legal profession? Perhaps it finally means the big changes so many have predicted will finally happen . More efficiencies. Better quality service. Legal placed in proper context within business. And guess what? That’s what our business clients really, really want ….

“Think about the advantages to business clients the Big 4 offer. Think about how their approach meshes coherently and consistently with business values.

“And remember the old saying: that will never happen…until it does.”

 

Part 1

Part 2