Putting clients at the centre: joined-up legal and accountancy services
The combined professional services approach is not the preserve of large accountancy firms, says Simon Walsh as he shares his organisation's own experience
Last month Michael Castle, the man recently appointed to head Deloitte’s push into the legal market, sent shockwaves through the legal profession predicting that the Big Four accountancy firms will soon become “significant players” in the UK’s £25bn legal market.
Some commentators see this move by the Big Four as an enormous threat, making it even more important to be nimble and responsive and ensure that those silos in which many teams operate don’t limit the opportunities to compete effectively.
The concept of alternative business structures (ABS) for law firms was ushered in by the Legal Services Act of 2007, which enabled nonlawyers to own or invest in law firms for the first time and opened up entirely new ways for regulated legal activities to be taken to market.
Since then there has been a steady stream not only of law firms embracing the opportunities afforded by ABSs, but businesses outside the profession who have been eyeing up the opportunities too.
The Big Four accounting firms have now all been granted ABS status, enabling them to offer reserved legal activities.
The business of which I’m a partner, Oury Clark, has been operating across both law and accountancy for the past 20 years.
Oury Clark Accountants and Oury Clark Solicitors operate as separate firms regulated by the ICAEW and SRA respectively, but working under a common brand.
Our ethos is to offer clients the benefits of a joined-up approach to their business issues, contemplating risk, liability, finance and quantum issues together, rather than in discreet silos.
We do this through open and transparent communication across the two firms and we have an ongoing education and training programme across both practices to ensure we are across the big issues that are likely to impact our clients.
It is also about building respect between the professions and breaking down the barriers that sometimes exist between lawyers and accountants.
Our view is that it is not acceptable to tell a client we can advise on their circumstances from an accounting point of view but that they’ll need to go elsewhere for legal.
Instead, there is real value in being able to present both the accounting and legal perspective in the same advice.
A classic example to illustrate the point: HMRC requires directors’ payments to be processed through payroll.
However, in the case of a USbased non-executive director of a UK company, this could make it look like they’re working in the UK, which can be in direct conflict with the UK immigration rules.
Conundrums like this will be picked up and dealt with more quickly in a joined-up structure. Another example is the foreign client looking to set up operations in the UK.
They are going to need tax advice, accounting help, someone who can advise on incorporation, immigration and employment, advice regarding premises, and commercial advice as they go to market.
The type of professionals they are going to need help from may be organised quite differently than in their country of origin.
This organisation makes things simpler and smoother for clients, in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and hard to navigate.
In practice, we appoint a key client contact and work to ensure there are no blockers within the communication channels and this helps present a seamless front to our clients.
Of course there are boundaries set down by both regulators and we fully respect and operate within those.
Further, close cooperation across practice areas and disciplines not only means advisers are adept at sharing knowledge across both parts of the business, but it also eradicates professional territoriality. And that’s got to be a good thing.
We sell the benefits to clients of this holistic approach, and their feedback confirms they find real value in it. But of course they are not locked in to using both sides of our business if they don’t want to.
Clients have total flexibility. They can engage with only our law business, or just our accounting business.
It’s up to them to decide to use both – but because the benefits of our holistic approach are practical and real, they often do.
Simon Walsh is a partner at Oury Clark Solicitors ouryclark.com