EY Law in turmoil as CEO Bignon falls on his sword

Patrick Bignon, the totemic head of EY Law, has quit following discussions with the international executive of EY’s accounting parent Ernst & Young (E&Y) over the future of the legal network.

In the wake of the discussions, E&Y has ditched its ambitions to have a formal integrated global network.

Key internal sources said that EY will now refocus its resources on Continental European firms in an attempt to salvage the most successful part of its network.

However, other well-placed internal sources fear that Bignon’s departure heralds a wholesale retreat from the legal sector by E&Y.

Until now, E&Y has been very supportive of its law firms, despite decisions by KPMG and Deloitte to ditch their lawyers and the gradual unravelling of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ legal arm Landwell.

Separately, it has emerged that over the last four years ago E&Y UK invested around £22m into its associated law firm Tite & Lewis (T&L), which has 11 partners. E&Y UK refused to confirm or deny its investment.

Last spring, the vast majority of E&Y’s associated law firms moved to tackle the regulatory pressures on the cross-selling of audit services by forming a tight network which cross-sells their services with E&Y’s non-audit divisions. T&L and McKee Nelson, which was precluded from membership by US law, are only ‘associated’ with the global network.

Under the new plans, EY Law will concentrate on Europe, where 80 per cent of its resources already reside, although informal referral relationships with other E&Y law firms worldwide will be maintained. In the 2003 financial year the Continental European firms performed well under difficult circumstances, generating revenues of over £278.8m.

However, the departure of Bignon, which has not yet been announced internally, is likely to throw the network into disarray. Over the last nine months EY Law has haemorrhaged partners, particularly in Germany and most recently in Paris, which is where Bignon is based.

EY Law and Bignon declined to comment.