Accountants are advancing on the legal services market across a broad front. That is one way of reading the news this week, as KPMG secures an ABS licence and the ICAEW joins the list of regulators of legal services for probate work – both commercial and ‘high street’ clients would seem to be the target.

The previous most concerted effort made by major accountancy firms – as they set up the likes of Arthur Andersen-linked Garretts – spread a little fear in City law firms. The collapse of Enron did for Arthur Andersen, which took Garretts down with it. It is fair to say that at that point the City legal community was not exactly a schadenfreude-free zone.  

It would be wrong to conclude that accountants eyeing the legal sector are therefore doomed. Enron was an extraordinary event, and Garretts was a decent corporate law firm. Its rivals took note of its growth because accountants have a closer day-to-day relationship with the core of a business client’s activities than law firms do. In terms of resource, the big accountants dwarf our largest firms.

In the context of a liberalised professional services market, these pieces of news are just two new additions to a complex legal scene. KPMG and the ICAEW’s members are worth watching though – they do not need to dominate that scene to change it.