Deloitte general counsel Caryl Longley may be surrounded by the men in grey suits, but she still finds working for an accountancy firm fascinating.

Grey matters: Caryl Longley Accountants are now the sexiest of the professional services, according to a recent survey ;that poured cold water on years of jibes about “boring” number crunchers. If this is true, and the proof is yet to be seen, the past 12 months could be called the accountants’ year, with insolvencies plentiful and auditors in high demand to mop up the mess of the global recession.

If anyone knows how accountants think it is Caryl Longley, general counsel at Deloitte, who is literally surrounded by people in grey suits. Working with so many accountants, tax specialists and ex-lawyers, Longley is well aware that her ‘clients’ know how to read the small print. After all, many of them spend their days writing it.

“We’re like a mini professional ­services department within a ­professional services firm. The people I work with are extremely bright, which is good on one level because they understand the job I’m trying to do, but it also means you have to be on top of your game because you’ll get savaged ­otherwise,” she jokes. “I’m lucky that legal isn’t seen as a necessary evil here; we get a lot of support.”

Deloitte encompasses tens of thousands of independent firms across the world. They operate separately from each other in their respective regions although they are organised under umbrella organisation Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (DTT).

In the UK, Longley enlists Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for ­general internal business and LLP conversion, Nabarro for property work and Linklaters on commercial and ­corporate matters. Deloitte UK also has an office in Zurich and uses Swiss firm Homburger there.

Shunning a panel in favour of enlisting help as it is needed, Longley deals with most issues in-house, ­turning to external law firms when Deloitte is restructuring or moving offices. Examples include the ­conversion to an LLP in 2003 and ‘Project Unity’, which in May 2008 rehoused the organisation in five buildings, including new headquarters in London’s New Street Square.

“I’m not sure a panel is the right approach – not all firms are good at everything,” explains Longley. ­“Getting external help isn’t an issue when we need it, but I try to get value for money. Nothing annoys me more than a bill plonked on my desk with no details.”

Prior to the arrival of a commercial lawyer ;and ;two ;employment ­specialists, Longley spent five years as the sole in-house lawyer and admits it was a “big shock” being thrown in at the deep end on her first day. “Being on my own meant it was a very steep learning curve, but it was a great way to meet senior management,” she adds.

Joining in 2002 from Total Oil UK, Longley was thrust into the post-Enron integration of Arthur Andersen where, in a brave move, Deloitte picked up large parts of the disgraced accountancy firm. The move boosted Deloitte into second place in the world’s ‘big four’ accountancy firms and it has been growing ever since. It broke the £2bn-turnover barrier last year in a milestone that was ­celebrated with a £1,000 bonus for everyone at the firm.

Deloitte frequently crosses paths with magic circle law firms in its
day-to-day business of auditing, insolvency work and consulting on tax or legal issues (Deloitte has its own legal services department), so it is no ­surprise that a number of magic ­circle firms are on Longley’s list of external advisers. But she would have “no qualms” about using smaller firms should they give her “the right ­standard of work at the right place”.

Having relied on her external firms in the years while she alone made up the legal department, Longley places great value on the relationships she has built with her firms. And she knows what she likes.

“Firms that do best are those that listen to what I’m really asking and don’t assume they know better and assume they can take ownership of the problem and run with it,” Longley explains. “I have a contribution to make and the end result should be seamless for the client – me and Deloitte in this case.”

Longley is a veteran ‘in-houser’ with 21 years’ experience of sitting on the client’s side and she revels in the job satisfaction of seeing her work “impact” on the business.

“I love it – I’d be a fish out of water doing anything else,” she adds thoughtfully. “I think I’d have to have been very successful in private ­practice to match my achievements while working in-house.”

Name: Caryl Longley
Organisation: Deloitte
Sector: Professional services
Position: General counsel
Reporting to: Finance director Bob Warburton
Company turnover: £2.01bn
Number of ­employees: 11,000-plus
In-house legal capability: Four
Main external law firms: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, Nabarro
Total legal spend: £100,000-£5m ­(variable)

Caryl Longley’s CV

1980-83: LLB, University of Exeter
1983-84: Solicitors’ Finals, College of Law, Guildford
Work history:
1984-86: Trainee, Morgan Bruce & ­Hardwicke, Cardiff
1986-88: Associate, Morgan Bruce & ­Hardwicke, Cardiff
1988-99: In-house ­counsel, Total Oil UK
1999-2002: Head of legal, Total Oil UK
2002-present: General counsel, Deloitte