The challenge by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Arthur Andersen against the ban on multi-disciplinary partnerships (MDPs) in Holland has been referred to the European Court of Justice.
The court's decision on PwC's dispute with the Dutch Bar Association will have a significant impact on the restrictions on establishing MDPs in the rest of Europe.
PwC's head of legal practice in The Netherlands Marcel van Oosten says: “One must assume this will have a great impact in that it will accelerate the process we are in. It won't change the outcome.
“In the end we will have MDPs all over the world.”
The dispute has been running for nearly five years.
It focuses on rules and regulations that prohibit accountancy practices being involved in the running of a law firm.
The same rules also remove the rights of lawyers employed in accountancy firms to appear in court in their professional status or claim professional privilege.
Van Oosten says: “We believe that this ban restricts full choice for clients.
“It prevents free and fair competition and goes against the letter and spirit of European competition law.”
PwC – which has 130 lawyers employed in Holland – and Andersens have taken the litigious route in preference to the compromise reached between Ernst & Young and the Dutch Bar Association.
Agreed in March, it allows Ernst & Young's tax consultancy to share profits with its legal arm, but in an arrangement that is kept separate from the accountants and that does not allow the lawyers to operate under the name Ernst & Young.
“My objection to compromise is that it is far more complicated and confusing for the public,” says Van Oosten.
“It should be really clear, using the name PwC. The market demands it and clients want it.”