So-called alternative legal service providers - including the Big Four accountants - are growing more quickly than previously predicted and moving up the value chain, research on both sides of the Atlantic reveals today. The new entrants, offering such services as litigation support, legal research and document review with the help of new technology now make up a $10bn (£7.6bn) a year market, the Thomson Reuters study found. 

Among the fastest growing are the accountancy giants Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PWC. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of large law firms interviewed for the report said they have had a client pick one of the Big Four for work that the law firm had expected to win.   

The study, Alternative Legal Service Providers 2019 was published by Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute based on research carried out with Georgetown Law, Oxford Saïd Business School & Acritas. It found that large law firms are more likely than corporate legal departments to turn to alternative providers. However 74% of corporations surveyed are now using such services, up from 60% in a similar survey two years ago. UK corporations are especially keen to use alternative providers to acquire specialised legal services, the report states. 

For law firms, the most common needs supplied by alternative providers are e-discovery, litigation and investigation support, and legal research.

The study notes that technology-enabled services allow the alternative providers to offer better value and take on different and more complex tasks. Some  rely on third-party technology but others are developing proprietary systems in search of sustainable competitive advantage. About a quarter of the businesses interviewed said their systems use artificial intelligence. 

Eric Laughlin, managing director of Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services, said that in a short period of time alternative providershave evolved from a relatively unknown phenomenon into a fast-growing segment. 

The survey conducted last summer covered legal departments and law firms in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.