KPMG made the front page of the Financial Times last Monday when it emerged that the firm plans to ‘cull’ one in 10 partners to save money.
Less conspicuous in the media was another news gobbet about the Big Four outfit that may be of greater interest to commercial lawyers. KPMG announced on the same day that it has signed Christina Blacklaws, immediate past-president of the Law Society, as an ambassador to bolster its legal services offering.
The former head of the solicitors profession crossing a longstanding divide to break bread with a beancounter behemoth seeking a slice (or two) of the same loaf. A telling indication – if it were needed – of greater cross-fertilisation, as barriers between the professions crack and crumble.
This appears a shrewd move for KPMG. At the core of the Big Four’s strategy is using technology to make legal advice more efficient and streamline in-house teams. Blacklaws made legaltech a cornerstone of her presidency – to considerable acclaim – and now chairs the MoJ-sponsored LawTech Delivery Panel. She also has an impressive track record of promoting women in law, which KPMG will also exploit.
The accounting giants are ramping up in this market more discreetly than they did 25 years ago through the creation of ‘multidisciplinary partnerships’ which ultimately proved abortive. But they are slowly becoming real players, at least in the mid-tier.
One commercial law firm chief told me last week that he now comes up against a certain Big Four firm in tendering exercises for legal work. He was, therefore, perplexed to find the very same Big Four outfit pitching for his own law firm’s statutory audit.
‘They’ve got no chance,’ I was tartly informed.
These awkward clashes and conflicts will proliferate, but they are a side issue. Following another string of scandals, one of outgoing business secretary Andrea Leadsom’s last acts before parliament was dissolved was to commit to implement radical reform of the audit market after the general election.
If that happens, growing their legal arms is one obvious way for the Big Four to shore up income in what is already a more difficult environment for bread-and-butter work. Hence KPMG’s ‘cull’.