Elephants in the Room Part I

The Big Four’s recent expansion into the legal market is not the accounting industry’s first foray into providing legal services. Throughout the 1990s, the big accounting firms expanded aggressively from their traditional audit business. After a decade of investment and expansion, the Big Five, as they were then known, built legal arms which rivalled the scale of the biggest law firms. Despite their early success, their ambitions in the legal industry were thwarted by a series of scandals and ensuing regulation, which exposed the potential conflicts of interest stemming from mixing audit with legal advisory services.

The first section of this paper examines the prior expansion of accounting firm into the legal market – a period from which accounting and law firms can learn valuable lessons. The second section looks at the current state of the Big Four in today’s global legal market. Accounting firms have learned valuable lessons from their prior misadventures in the legal industry. They are approaching expansion more cautiously and are using more sophisticated business models that combine traditional aspects of legal services delivery with newer methods. This strategy, combined the Big Four’s relationships with large clients, have allowed the Big Four to penetrate many areas of the legal industry and, once again, rival the largest law firms in the world.

Within 10 years, the Big Four could easily become the largest players in the legal industry. Law firms – and alternative service providers – should be preparing for that scenario.

Table of Contents

  • About the Authors
  • Introduction
  • Accounting Firms Prior Expansion in The Legal Services Market
  • The Current State of the Big Four in the Legal Market
  • Conclusion: The Future of the Big Four In the Legal Market
  • Survey Results
  • Research Methodology