According to a recent LegalFutures article, Professor Richard Susskind includes a warning for Big Law in his new book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future:*
Professor Susskind accepted that there is some force in the argument from the largest ‘elite’ global firms – which he numbered at about 20 – that for bet-the-ranch deals and disputes, clients will still want the services delivered, more or less, as in the past.
`However, they should not be overconfident… If one leading firm breaks rank, or if a major new force (such as a “Big 4″ accounting firm) emerges, and brings a new proposition to the market – a credible brand at half the price of its competitors, for example – then this could fundamentally and irreversibly change the market; and not just for the elite firms but across the entire profession.
`Leaders of the elite firms should suspend their likely incredulity at this scenario, if only because major clients, as never before, are commonly saying that they are now actively looking for alternatives to the traditional ways of some of the great firms whom many regard as too costly and sometimes too arrogant.’
After reading this quote, curiosity led me to the websites of the largest international accounting firms where I discovered some interesting things. While I didn’t find anyone there explicitly hanging out their shingle to offer legal services, I did see materials that could be viewed as coming close to offering advice on issues that lawyers have handled for years:
- Compliance and Regulatory Risk Management
- Financial Services Regulation
- Privacy and Data Protection
Admittedly, Big Law doesn’t have a lock on either these issues or on the general counsel of their clients. Nonetheless it’s instructive to see the ways in which the accounting firms are talking about these issues with Big Law’s clients. Here’s a small sample of what they are offering:
- Deloitte, The Risk Intelligent General Counsel
- Ernst & Young, Top four governance trends of proxy season 2012
- KPMG, General Counsel Survey 2012
- KPMG, Global Anti-Bribery and Corruption Survey 2011
- KPMG, Is Your Corporate Governance Keeping Pace With Legislative Change?
When you dig into the financial regulatory offerings of accounting firms, you find content that could easily have been distributed in the form of that favored Big Law communication tool — the client alert:
- Deloitte, Dodd-Frank Act: Compliance with External Business Conduct Standards in the Derivatives Market
- Deloitte, First look: A Practical Guide to the Federal Reserve’s Newly Enhanced Prudential Standards for Foreign Banks
- KPMG, Dodd-Frank and the Conflict Minerals Rule
- KPMG, Dodd-Frank Quick Hits Alert – Swap Terms Defined & Volcker Rule Conformance Period Clarified
- PwC, SEC Adopts Final Rule for Investment Adviser Registration
And that’s not all. At least one accounting firm has gone far beyond the traditional legal alert memo. PricewaterhouseCoopers now offers PwC’s Regulatory Navigator: a mobile app available through the iTunes store that purports to provide
everything you need to know about how the changing regulatory environment is impacting your firm and the rest of the financial services industry. With a primarily US focus, this app provides access to PwC’s insights on the latest regulatory changes and links to key original source information, such as proposed and final rules.
In case you’re wondering how accountants are able to do all of this, the answer is pretty simple. The accounting firms are hiring Big Law veterans to do the legal analysis and counsel clients. The ones I’ve talked to take great pains to emphasize that they are not practicing law. Even still, they are finding lucrative ways to make their understanding of the law available to clients and in the process are offering a service at a price clients seem to find tolerable.
The crumbs from Big Law’s table may not be sufficient to feed another large law firm, but they might provide a lucrative snack for a host of uninvited guests from other professions. One day soon there may be enough crumbs for a veritable feast.
[Hat tip to Donna Seyle for pointing out the LegalFutures article.]
[Photo Credit: looseends]
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