Big Four set their sights on the legal services market in Asia

10 August 2018 Consultancy.asia

As the turf war between the traditional strategy consulting and professional services providers continues to heat up, and together the consulting world fends off counter-punches over its encroachment on the ad-agency realm, the Big Four quartet of advisory behemoths have rapidly opened up a new battle-front: the legal services domain – with Asia host to the opening salvos.

The announcements from ad-land have been coming in thick and fast. In just the past week or so, Omnicom, one the of the world’s largest marketing and communications holding groups, with over 80,000 employees worldwide and revenues in excess of $15 billion, picked up its first management and tech consulting firm, Credera – a firm based out of Texas and Colorado with 300 employees.

The global advertising agency Grey Group, under the WPP umbrella, also last week announced the launch of a consulting line, Grey Consulting, following similar moves by TBWA and Ogilvy, and many others, including R/GA’s consulting services launch in Singapore, in just recent months. The prompt – the consulting giants such as Accenture and Deloitte which have turned the full force of their bulk on capturing the advertising domain.

And while the counter-maneuvering from ad-land may bear a faint whiff of futility, it also increasingly strikes as if yesterday’s news, the undercard in the lead up to the new main event: the Big Four goliaths vs. an entrenched and traditionally conservative legal services market in an era of wide-spread disruption – with Asia, it seems, selected as the arena for first title bout, in what will imaginably become a global tour for legal sector supremacy.Big Four set their sights on the legal services market in AsiaThe Big Four combatants, will also, of course, have to contend with one another. In Asia, PwC and EY have been quick out of the blocks – PwC with a recent coup in securing the services of high-profile corporate lawyer Rachel Eng in Singapore, and EY adding Atlas Asia Law Corporation to its legal network – but Deloitte has now fully entered the local fray, this week launching Deloitte Legal International in Singapore.

Already, a recent brand survey by specialist legal research and analysis firm Acritas named PwC Legal, EY and KPMG as the one, two and three on its ‘Asia Pacific Alternative Legal Brand Index’, beating out other legal sector brands such as LexisNexis. Yet, while it’s easy to wonder how long before the Big Four graduate from the alternative brand index to the main board, there are still many peripheral factors yet to play out – including regulatory clampdowns.

“There are serious questions of fair competition and ethics when the Big Four audit most of the Am Law 200 law firms and then directly compete against us for client engagements,” David Tang, Asia managing partner for K&L Gates, told Law.com. “They know our finances and our financial arrangements with clients; they then compete directly for the same engagements with the same clients and compete on fees, knowing what we have done.”

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KPMG launches legal services affiliate in Hong Kong, with Shanghai to follow

18 January 2019 Consultancy.asia

KPMG has officially joined the primary Asian legal services fray with the launch of affiliate SF Lawyers in Hong Kong, with another law firm in Shanghai to follow.

Global professional services firm KPMG has announced its first foray into the epicenter of Asia’s increasingly competitive legal services market with the establishment of SF Lawyers in Hong Kong. Launched in association with KPMG Law in Australia, the firm’s new legal affiliate in Hong Kong effectively marks the conclusion of the first phase of the Big Four’s battle for a market foothold and ultimate quest for ascendancy.

To date, all of Deloitte, PwC and EY have launched similar entities in Singapore, Deloitte most recently with Sabara Law, with the latter pair expanding their personnel and services in Hong Kong of late and Deloitte to launch a 25 lawyer-strong practice in the territory imminently. While KPMG has yet to make its move in Singapore, the launch of SF Law rounds out the Big Four’s presence in the primary Asian markets.

With the Big Four market charge fueled by high-level poaching, such as PwC’s recruitment of high-profile corporate lawyer Rachel Eng from WongPartnership in Singapore, SF Law will reportedly operate with an initial team of four principals – led by Shirley Fu, who rejoins the firm from offshore provider Harneys after an earlier career stint as a tax consultant – with aims to grow the headcount to 20 by the end of this year.

And already, Fu has fired a gentle broadside to SF’s Big Four competitors, with respect to their recruitment from international legal firms. “[Some members of SF Lawyers] actually have been the users of legal services, so they can really understand the clients’ challenges and understand what the client really wants,” she reportedly Law.com. “Our ultimate aim is to provide integrated legal solutions to clients, not just opinions.”KMPG launches legal services affiliate in Hong Kong, with Shanghai to follow

Fu will be initially joined by Rodney Chen, Leo Tian and David Murray, the latter who will transfer internally form a Head of Legal, Quality & Risk Management (Q&RM) role with KPMG China, where he has been based for the past six and a half years following an earlier six year stint as Senior Legal Counsel for Ernst & Young’s Oceania practice. Meanwhile, KPMG is preparing to expand its legal practice in China.

According to reports, the firm is set to launch a 25-lawyer firm In Shanghai before the year is out, which will include up to five partners and focus on areas such as mergers and acquisitions, commercial services, regulatory compliance and infrastructure, with China’s Belt & Road initiative and the need for legal and consulting services looming large. Presently, KPMG also has affiliated firms Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

On the subject of Singapore, KPMG’s head of legal for China and Hong Kong Lachlan Wolfers has contended that while being closely monitored there are no current immediate plans in place for a launch in the local jurisdiction, although he states that a successful move into Hong Kong and Shanghai will “give a lot of confidence around a proposition in Singapore.” Such a move however, would require the support of KPMG Singapore.

In addition to a focus on M&A, infrastructure projects and LegalTech services, KPMG Asia Pacific and China chairman Honson To said the new Hong Kong firm would “provide clients with global legal solutions, leveraging our legal services practices across 76 jurisdictions.” Altogether, KPMG has some 2,300 lawyers worldwide, with growth of about 40 percent in the Asia Pacific last year and plans to push to 3,000 globally in the coming years.

Related: Alternative legal services provider Axiom appoints Yolanda Chan as General Manager for Asia.