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Why are Lawyers Increasingly Joining the Big 4?

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The last few years have seen many changes in the legal landscape, with law firms more competitive than ever. Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC have been investing heavily in their legal services arms – particularly in Europe – and now collectively employ about 8,500 lawyers globally. With the gap closing between Magic Circle and City law firms, the ‘Big 4’ accountancy firms and their legal teams truly stand out for offering a unique tailored service to clients.

Law firms in the UK are having to be more competitive than ever before when it comes to attracting the best talent. Earlier this year, we saw Magic Circle law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer increase its salary for newly-qualified lawyers to £100k, followed closely by the other four Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms, which was largely fuelled by competition from large US firms. Not only this, but the upcoming changes to the education and training of junior lawyers with the introduction of the Solicitor's Qualifying Exam means law firms are having to work hard to create innovative training programmes, and offer exciting training contracts to compete with commercial and accounting firms in this rapidly evolving legal landscape.

The Big 4 are actively recruiting huge numbers of lawyers and, according to Harvard Law School, are emerging as hot spots for supporting legal work. Beyond the UK, each practice works with its international counterparts - PwC has a global headcount of around 3,200 lawyers, EY has more than 2,000 lawyers, KPMG has 1,300 lawyers spanning over 70 countries, and Deloitte has almost 2,000 legal professionals globally. 

We have already seen significant changes happening within the legal arms of the Big 4. Deloitte Legal has worked closely with ULaw to develop innovate training for new graduate-level legal qualifications placing them at 'the forefront of what is undoubtedly an exciting new era in legal education and training', as well as new legal apprenticeships as part of Deloitte's BrightStart Apprenticeship programme. Moves like this from Deloitte mean access to the legal profession is broadening and becoming more inclusive, offering the opportunity for aspiring solicitors to earn while they learn. Most significantly, a legal training contract with one of the Big 4 means lawyers are able to encounter the wealth of expertise beyond legal work that these accountancy giants can offer as multidisciplinary firms. 

So, how does working at the Big 4 benefit lawyers?

Not only do they hold great power in their brand that instantly opens doors, the Big 4 offer a complete end-to-end solution for their clients – one that cannot be matched by a traditional law firm. A multidisciplinary service is provided by the Big 4 legal teams by combining their skills and knowledge with the firm’s world-class business advisory services, enabling them to work at the heart of every client and their business. One of the main value-added propositions of the Big 4 is their client-based service setup and their ability to offer globally integrated business solutions, meaning that together with their global presence and ability to provide a one-stop-shop, the nature of the work is often not only international and cross-border but of extremely high calibre.

At Pro-Legal, having successfully helped many Lawyers transition into the Big 4, the environment is commonly described to us as private practice but without all the politics. You are provided with in-depth technical and professional training and the setting in a Big 4 is incomparable, creating almost a halfway house between traditional private practice and in-house. Working internally within an accountancy firm, lawyers are being asked to be more than technical experts - they are often seen as trusted advisors and provide a wide array of expertise that goes beyond legal services. While the Big 4 have historically focused on practices that complement their audit and tax advisory businesses, such as tax, labour and employment, it is evident that they are increasingly branching out into other areas, including M&A. Particularly busy areas of growth include Corporate, Banking, and Finance, Data Protection, TMT, Intellectual Property, Real Estate, Employment, Private Client - meaning your scope of work is vast.

You’re still offered the opportunity to work with multiple clients, ensuring that your remit is broad and involves varied work. However, within the Big 4 you are able to take a different approach to business development and utilise the vast internal network opposed to the traditional external business development – a much easier way to build your practice! Client secondments both in the UK and overseas are also frequent and encouraged.

Last but not least, one of the key attractions for the Big 4 is the workplace culture. All of the Big 4 have been ranked in Fortune magazine's list of the 100 Best Places to Work and their capability to provide a genuinely flexible approach to working from home/remotely tends to be attractive.



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