External affairs

When is David Attenborough going to cover that natural phenomenon – the relationship between the lawyer and the accountant? The two professions are like animals who service each other's needs and hunt prey on a co-operative basis while at the same time competing for the same prey and even hunting each other.

It is a complex relationship, yet both parties are able to segregate the different facets of the relationship.

Certainly, this firm is happy to provide accountants with legal services and we, in turn, ask them to provide us with financial services.

Accountants are used when we need to prepare partnership accounts. Fees for this fairly basic work tend to be competitive and we have no real cause for complaint.

However, what we really require is pro-active advice on tax planning, and that, by and large, has not been forthcoming. We get sent plenty of tech- nical updates from accountancy firms, all of which are produced in a glossy format, but much of the information is irrelevant to the practice.

What we want, although seldom get, is focused, punchy information which has direct relevance to our affairs.

In the past, partners' personal tax affairs have been regarded as a matter for each individual to deal with. However, we are increasingly being invited to deal with these matters on a collective basis in order to maximise our buying power, and there are many obvious benefits in doing so.

Our own tax lawyers increasingly work with accountants on a co-operative basis, particularly over cross-border matters when their global networks can be extremely helpful in providing localised advice.

We have also used accountancy firms to provide us with valuable training in a number of areas. It is a sad reflection on our own profession that we have to turn to accountants to train us to be better lawyers and we are working hard to redress the balance.

But the reality is that accountants have some very good training programmes which law firms can use to good advantage. These courses are not cheap but they do offer good value for money.

We have also found accountants extremely helpful in addressing structural issues as our organisation develops.

The accountancy firms we use have provided all of our offices with the benefit of their professional knowledge and their experience in dealing with the affairs of other law firms. They have, at the same time, preserved total confidentiality in all matters. In addition, they have proved excellent value for money.

Overall, we are broadly happy with the service we get from accountants, but there is still room for improvement.