Accountants still have a lot to learn

The breakdown of the Arthur Andersen/Wilde Sapte deal may be ominous for Wilde Sapte but it is also bad news for Arthur Andersen.

While the main focus is undoubtedly on the plight of Wilde Sapte, which has been jilted so publicly at the altar, questions must also be asked about Arthur Andersen's role.

The Big Six firm, which has gathered lawyers around it with a sure-footedness which left other accountancy firms limping in at the finish, has suddenly found itself in a bit of a high-profile pickle.

First, it could not complete the deal with Simmons & Simmons. And then, on the rebound, it failed in its link-up with Wilde Sapte.

The official reason for the failure is that some heavy hitters from Wilde Sapte were taking flight. But since when has Arthur Andersen been put off by defections?

In fact it is part and parcel of doing such a controversial deal that such defections will occur. Moreover, it is Arthur Andersen's experience to date that this type of thing happens, as can be seen in its French, Scottish and Spanish operations.

There is no doubt that it is difficult to negotiate a transaction of this nature. Different expectations, business cultures and conflicts of interest are just a few of the problems to be resolved.

However, it seems Arthur Andersen still has a lot to learn about the operations of London law firms.

Will other accountancy firms be put off by the apparent hiccup in the plan to acquire a major law firm? It seems not. One is already waiting in the wings to ride to the rescue of Wilde Sapte.

But while Wilde Sapte will now suffer from its rejection by Arthur Andersen, it seems certain that the accountancy firm itself will not escape from this failed deal without some damage to its image.