The future lies in a truly integrated approach

City firms are busy bringing in specialists from outside the profession. Soon clients will turn up at meetings with firms and find themselves confronted with economists, political analysts and even environmentalists.

Ashurst Morris Crisp has a former Indian government official to advise on political matters on the sub-continent, Cameron McKenna employs an expert on Polish insurance and another on environmental issues, and Rowe & Maw has a specialist on European and international trade.

Firms are obviously convinced that these non-legal experts are not merely the best means of offering clients added value to their service, but essential to their firms' survival in a marketplace that is becoming increasingly competitive.

Law firms are, of course, facing competition from every angle. The Americans and the accountants are encroaching ever further onto their territory and firms are desperately searching for ever more ingenious strategies to fight off their rivals. They have tried ruthlessly axing unprofitable departments, streamlining their practice areas and even going merger-crazy. Now they are recruiting "specialist advisers".

However, if the American Bar Association commission's vote in favour of multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs) and the recent French government report welcoming accountants and lawyers working together signal anything, it is that the future lies in providing a holistic service to clients. The problem is that lawyers are waking up to this idea a bit late.

The accountants recognised this and forged links with law firms long ago. Last month KPMG launched its own law firm in the UK, KLegal, effectively permitting it to operate as a virtual MDP.

With competition growing at a rapid pace firms are having to mark out their difference. Taking on "specialist advisers" is not a simple answer. Firms must not use them as a marketing gimmick. They must be fully integrated into the firm and, more importantly, so must their work, if a firm is to offer a truly competitive holistic service.