Time to get real – the big five just got bigger

Not so long ago the word in the legal marketplace was that big was no longer beautiful. The multi-firm mergers that created City-dominating giants were on their way out and clients were instead looking for boutique services and concentrated expertise.

All that may have been wishfulthinking. Multi-skilling and global reach are still big news. PricewaterhouseCoopers' avowed aim to become "one of the top five legal firms in the world within the next five years" is reminiscent of the posturing of fellow accountancy firm Arthur Andersen which has a legal network taking in 31 countries. Deloitte & Touche and KPMG are already pushing into legal service.

Rather than shoring themselves up against these monsters, some UK practices are likely to want to step on board. Where will all this lead? Probably to a changing culture in legal business. PwC says it plans to become one of the few firms that can offer clients a "truly global legal expertise". Most of our top 10 City firms may scoff at this. They, too, have developed international links with exactly the same aim.

But they tend to have looser associations with firms abroad and smaller outposts. If UK firms can't join PwC they will have to beat it at its own game and that may be a near impossible task.