At first glance, accountants might be pleased with the results of the latest survey by Baker Tilly and The Lawyer into services provided by accountants to the legal profession. But while the overall conclusions suggest there is greater satisfaction with accountants, there are worrying trends.
Perhaps most revealing were answers to the question: ‘What would lawyers most like their accountants to change?’. All of us would like to hear the comment: ‘We’re very happy with our accountants as they are’. Sadly, comments such as absent pro-activity, timeliness or developing a rapport with legal firms are still too common for us to relax. We really must work out with law firms how we can meet their service demands. On the other hand, it is a bit steep to hear lawyers criticising accountants for ‘jargon-laden correspondence’. But a review of letters written by any professional to a layman will likely show that the criticism is too close for comfort.
The survey reveals considerable interest in limited liability partnerships (LLPs). Whether the perceived advantages of LLPs will attract many firms of lawyers is unclear. Changes to professional indemnity arrangements and the Solicitors Indemnity Fund may have an effect. But will LLPs be a panacea? Greater disclosure, possible loss of taxation benefits, increased NI contributions and regulation are not likely to attract firms while they can cover PI risks economically. As a client, I would want to see professional indemnity cover rather than deal with an LLP.
All of this leads to missed opportunities. Strategic planning is crucial as legal practices develop nationally and globally. The need for independent advice in this area is indisputable. This is an area where legal partnerships could benefit from ‘non-executive directorship’-type advice. This is an added-value service which accountants are well placed to offer – but we seem to be missing out on the opportunity. And lawyers do not seem to be missing our advice.
Clive Parritt is chairman of Baker Tilly.
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