Accountants – the lawyers of tomorrow?

If the news that the Big Four accountancy firms are ramping up their legal arms sounds like something you’ve read before, you’re not far wrong. In the pre-Enron days, the likes of KLegal and Andersen Legal, closely associated with the auditors, were major players in the UK mid-market.

Now PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is setting its stall out to lead the Big Four back into the top echelons of the legal market. PwC Legal global legal services leader Leon Flavell says he wants the firm to become a global top-20 legal services player within the next five years.

It’s a bold ambition. But PwC has already gained an ABS licence and has the sort of global distribution network which will allow it to spread its worldwide legal wings.

Its accountancy rivals are close behind. Last month Ernst & Young acquired Shanghai firm Chen & Co, after laying the ground in Singapore with the hire of a former Herbert Smith Freehills partner, and in late 2012 Deloitte acquired German mid-tier firm Raupach & Wollert-Elmendorff to expand its offering.

It goes to show there is no room for complacency in this industry. Those turning up their noses at new entrants might have to think again as accountants exchange the abacus for the ABS.

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