Accounting Firms » The case for joining up legal and accounting services

Michael Castle, who has been appointed to head up Deloitte’s new UK legal venture, has spoken out about the firm’s aim to ‘transform the legal landscape’, explaining that the Big Four accounting firms will become ‘major players’ in the legal industry’s £26bn market. Castle explained that Deloitte is in a particularly strong position due to their ability to pull together consulting, service delivery and legal technology into a single solution, while being able to invest in doing it.

This concept of providing a holistic service is gaining in popularity: blending together existing skills allows for accountants, lawyers and firms of professional advisers to work closely together to deliver the best possible service, which is hugely valuable to clients.

Oury Clark has offered a joined-up legal and accounting service for almost 20 years, and we see where the value lies in this approach, with Oury Clark Solicitors and Oury Clark Chartered Accountants working as two separate firms (regulated by the SRA and ICAEW respectively) working under one brand.

We often hear from our clients that they appreciate our ability to provide a very organised service, making matters much simpler and easier for them – particularly important given the world is becoming increasingly difficult to understand and navigate (not least because of the rise of technology and a raft of unanswered questions this lead to, for example who is liable if a driverless car gets into an accident?).

At Oury Clark, lawyers and accountants work together seamlessly, co-operating in such a way that the client doesn’t have to get involved in unnecessary complexities. This holistic approach allows for sharing knowledge across all parts of the business, as the different practice areas dovetail together to offer the most effective solution for the client. Clients do have control though as our offering is flexibility. You can opt to use just one side of our business – whether just law or just accounting, depending on the client’s needs and of course personal preference.

But because the benefits of our holistic approach are clear from the outset, this option is adopted much more often than not, and we regularly receive feedback that this is incredibly valuable to them, in terms of time and energy spent. Not least because business issues that our clients come to us with can be very complex – if a business is looking to set up operations in the UK for example, this will incorporate many areas of both accounting and law.

Their needs may range from employment and immigration legal advice, while tax advice and accounting help also come into play, as well as a wide range of commercial advice they will need to get their business off the ground. In all likelihood things will work differently to how they are used to in the client’s country of origin, and business owners can’t be expected to understand the complicated jurisdictional and accounting-related hurdles that must be surpassed to ensure their business is legally and financially viable.

These clients will need help from a variety of professionals, and how are they expected to know who they are supposed to contact for each individual issue or piece of advice that is needed? By default, the holistic approach means that clients don’t have to waste their time and energy trying to figure out who to go to for which problem.

Need for speed

Speed is very important to clients – if a client is working with an accountant, who in turn has a legal question that needs addressing, they will have to then find someone who can assist with this, and this process in itself can delay matters by weeks.

A holistic approach means being able to contemplate a whole raft of business issues that come up, from finance, liability, risk, and quantum issues together, rather than in discreet silos, (and of course within the confines of what is permitted by our respective regulators). You are unlikely to have a successful outcome with a client (or get repeat business) if you are telling them you can only help with one aspect of their problem, and that they will have to seek advice elsewhere for what is outside their knowledge base / job description. Combining accounting and legal advice eradicates this issue entirely.

Of course this has all been made possible by the Legal Service Act 2007, which sought to liberalise and regulate the market for legal services in England and Wales, with the aim of encouraging more competition. Through this change in law, Alternative Business Structures (ABS) for law firms came to be, meaning that non-lawyers could own or invest in law firms for the very first time, which opened up new ways for legal activities to be taken to market. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) was created, which encouraged the profession to think differently about its business models and innovate.

The Big Four accounting firms have now all been granted ABS status, meaning that they can offer reserved legal activities. This year, each of the Big Four have been coming out with bold statements about their intention to grab a big share of the legal market, eyeing up the very lucrative opportunities that this market offers. It will be interesting to see how this develops.