The Law Society is expected to lift its ban on multidisciplinary practices this summer, opening the way for accountancy firms to merge with legal practices for the first time.
The society currently prohibits its members from forming multiprofessional practices, because of fears this would threaten the independence and separate identity of the law profession, as well as reduce public access to justice.
Despite the opposition, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Arthur Andersen have already invested in setting up associated global law firms. But so far they have been unable to merge with legal practices and use the PwC and Andersens brand names.
The Law Society’s move follows a council decision to review its blanket opposition to multidisciplinary practices by sending out a consultation paper proposing six models on which future arrangements could be based.
Only one would allow the convergence of accountancy and legal professionals, but the society confirmed that, after reviewing the 350 responses, practices featuring both were now a serious option.
‘The argument has moved on,’ said a spokesman. ‘It is not now a question of the flat rejections of MDPs, but how they should be regulated and what advice should be offered to our members.’
A decision will not be announced until this summer, but Big Five firms welcomed the apparent change of heart.
An Andersens spokesman said: ‘We do not want to jump the gun before they have confirmed this but we are looking forward to the next stage.’
Arguing that competition within the market will ensure high standards are maintained, a PwC source said multiprofessional practices would allow accountants to share profits and rebrand solicitors’ firms to bring them under the firm’s umbrella.
KPMG said it had been looking at providing legal services in the UK and would welcome any change of tack by the Law Society. ‘We have been talking to practices but it has not resulted in anything as yet. But it is ongoing and the council lifting its ban would certainly make things easier,’ said an insider.
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