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Poor Patrick Bignon. Just imagine: you emerge from the wreckage of Andersen Legal, you still believe that MDPs have a future and you get steamrollered by Sarbanes-Oxley. And you still keep trying. That takes a lot of optimism.
That optimism seems to have been replaced by arctic realism. After Sarbanes-Oxley, the accountancy-tied legal networks were looking like pastiches of the real thing. There never seemed to be any centre of gravity. KLegal (may it rest in peace) is still allegedly negotiating its international network, but there are few signs of life. Similarly, EY Law never really took hold.
Not that EY Law’s stock within Ernst & Young (E&Y) was perilously low. It’s easy to deride the MDPs now, but someone must have been buying EY Law’s services. At year-end June 2003, France was turning over $76m (£40.9m), Germany $72m (£38.7m), the Netherlands $46m (£24.7m) and Italy $37m (£19.9m) – and that’s not counting the smaller jurisdictions. (Itsy bitsy teeny weeny Tite & Lewis, if you remember, was not part of EY Law, but the UK would have counted as a minor jurisdiction in revenue terms.)
But at an E&Y global management meeting in Santiago in January, when the legal network’s future was on the agenda, buy-in from the senior accountants wasn’t a problem. Frankly, the problem was always buy-in from the lawyers. Bignon’s energy and commitment was what was driving the concept of a combined EY Law, but the idea of getting all those Continental firms to cross-refer work? Pure vaudeville.
And then there were the defections – plenty of them, too, and most spectacularly in France and Germany. The Stuttgart and Bochum offices peeled off, while team after team left the Paris operation. One can’t help wondering whether Bignon was badly affected by this year’s departure of Frederic Donnedieu de Vabres to launch a tax boutique. Not only were the two men together at Andersen Legal from the beginning, but de Vabres is understood to be targeting ex-Andersen firms for referrals. A month later, Bignon offered unconditional surrender.
Hey, let’s look on the bright side: just think of all the opportunities for UK firms in the upper mid-market to bulk up on the Continent, and particularly in France, Germany and Italy. The following firms have already staged raids: DLA’s best friend Görg in Germany, Simmons & Simmons in Belgium and Hammonds and Baker & McKenzie in France.
So: Virginia Glastonbury, Peter Martyr, Neville Eisenberg and Julian Tonks. What are you waiting for?