Senior lawyers at global accountancy giant EY say the new entrant into the legal services market has benefited from the legal profession’s struggle to ‘figure us out’.

EY Law’s Matthew Kellett (pictured), head of law, financial services, told the Gazette that many solicitors still referred to the ‘big four’ accountancy firms as ‘accountants’.

But Kellett stressed that just over half of EY’s business is management consultancy: ‘We are an accountancy firm culturally but not a firm of accountants. It suits us that people cannot figure us out or have not done so yet.’

Philip Goodstone, head of law, UK and Ireland, said the firm’s competitors are ‘whoever is strong’ in any market EY Law is competing for work.

Goodstone said EY Law is ‘not trying to replace what the market already has’. But he added: ‘If we cannot position ourselves differently and distinctly, there’s no point doing what we do.

‘Our fixation is on what we’re doing, not on how the market chooses to box us.’

EY became the third of the ‘big four’ to be granted an alternative business structure licence by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2014 along with PwC Legal and KPMG. Deloitte has said it has no plans to go down the ABS route.

EY said at the time it expected to have a legal presence in more than 80 jurisdictions by 2017.

‘Even the biggest magic circle firms have a footprint in about 20 jurisdictions. We do other assignments where we’re covering 70 jurisdictions,’ Kellett said.

At present the UK team has more than 40 lawyers, with plans to grow to 60 by the end of June. Goodstone said the UK team ‘should be something like 150 people or maybe more’ by 2020. The financial services legal team could grow to 75-100 lawyers, Kellett said.

The UK team will also take on between four and six trainees this year. Kellett said the financial services team will ‘get some trainees in due course’.

Goodstone added that growth was ‘not just a numbers game for us. We’re not looking to build just for building’s sake. Success for me will be when we get our first internally promoted partners’.

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