The European Court of Justice has been asked decide whether bans on multidisciplinary practices are illegal in EU countries following a long legal wrangle between Big Five firms and Dutch legal authorities, writes Lucinda Kemeny.
PricewaterhouseCoopers and competitor Arthur Andersen have been locked in an ongoing battle with the Dutch Bar Association in an attempt to overrule its hard-line stance against lawyers and accountants forming joint partnerships.
The Dutch Council of State has now referred the decision to the European Court of Justice, but it is likely to take at least 18 months to reach a decision on the issue.
This may not be soon enough for PricewaterhouseCoopers, which last week indicated it could be prepared to flout the Dutch ban on the formation of multidisciplinary practices if the client pressure gains enough momentum.
Marcel van Oosten, head of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ legal practice in the Netherlands, said: ‘We say that the Dutch Bar’s attitude is not in line with competition rulings throughout Europe. We are aiming to get real MDPs and that is what clients want.’ He said the Dutch Bar and the European Court of Justice would need to react quickly to prevent the market from deciding on a course of action.
His colleague, Gert van Veen, added: ‘Recent statements from the English Law Society show attitudes on cooperation between lawyers and accountants are changing and the ban by the Dutch Bar Association is preventing the full freedom of choice that is available to clients in other European countries.’
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