In an article published recently on The American Lawyer, writer Dan Packel reports that this year, “For the first time, PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG seized four of the top five spots on [the U.K. consultancy Acritas’s] list of global alternative brands, in a survey of general counsel at heavyweight international businesses.”
Packel points out that the attainment of this milestone follows several years of “concerted push” on the part of the accounting firms, who had earlier been discouraged from encroachment into the legal field by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the U.S., and similar measures in other countries. In his comprehensive and timely article – titled “Big Law’s Trojan Horse: Are The Big Four Preparing an Invasion?” –Packel explains how the major accounting firms have worked around the strictures of legislation to position themselves as strong competitors to Big Law in the offer of legal services globally.
While Packel points out that the Big Four are currently making inroads in legal areas that are not major sources of income for law firms (immigration and “high-volume, technology-aided work”), he quotes Dentons’ global chairman Joe Andrew, who says that “Big accounting firms going into law is a Trojan horse.” He cites the accounting firms’ “expertise in processing, their scale, their relationships with our best clients and their familiarity with technology” as indicators that their ascent toward the legal stratosphere will continue.
A basic problem in addressing this encroachment, the article suggests, is a widespread view among lawyers that accounting firms could never compete with their degree of legal specialization, as well as lawyers’ general “resistance to applying technology to legal issues.”
This is a long and valuable article that is worthy of the effort of reading from start to finish. Only after you have done so will you be able to determine whether you should be looking over your shoulder, or into the Trojan Horse that just pulled into your waiting room, in an effort to decide how and how soon (not whether) to protect your knowledge and your assets.
As Packel concludes, “No one in Big Law should be sleeping on the threat, lest they wake up to find their walled city overrun.”
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