The world’s biggest accounting companies are getting serious about competing with law firms in Singapore. In the past month, Deloitte was revealed to have registered a foreign law practice in the city and PwC and EY both announced the launch of local law practices.

Deloitte first registered its Singapore entity in April, according to law.com, and will be managed by Rashed Idrees, previously head of the company’s Thai legal unit and a former DFDL partner. The Singapore firm will join Deloitte’s existing legal presence in Asia, which comprises offices in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

On its website, Deloitte’s legal arm says that it “provides holistic guidance around strategic business decisions, offering cost-effective support for routine legal activities”.

Despite its seemingly broad presence in the region, Deloitte’s legal brand lags behind its competitors, according to a new Asia-Pacific alternative legal brand index by Acritas, which asked 221 senior in-house counsel, collectively responsible for US$1.2 billion of legal spend, to name organisations that provide legal services, excluding law firms, that first come to mind — as well as those they most favoured. While PwC, EY and KPMG topped the list, Deloitte did not make the top five.

In Singapore, it is certainly the case that PwC and EY are ahead of the game. PwC launched its foreign law practice in the city in December 2016 to focus on cross-border regional transactions and projects. The office was founded with two partners: Keith McGuire, who joined from Ashurst, and Natalie Breen, who joined from Norton Rose Fulbright. It has since added two more partners.

Speaking at the time, Leon Flavell, PwC’s global legal services leader, said that the firm saw growing market demand in Asia for “integrated business solutions across multiple territories”.

Earlier this month, PwC hired WongPartnership deputy chair Rachel Eng to launch a new Singapore law firm that will complement the existing foreign law practice. It previously had an association with independent local law firm Camford Law, which left the PwC network in June.

EY has also said it will launch a new Singapore law practice, after poaching four lawyers from Dentons Rodyk & Davidson. The firm, Atlas Asia, will be headed by Evelyn Ang and will replace independent local firm PK Wong & Associates, which was previously part of EY’s legal network.

KPMG has not yet joined the fray in Singapore but is ramping up its legal presence in Asia after hiring Stuart Fuller, former King & Wood Mallesons banking and finance partner, to head up its Australian law practice in November last year.

Of course, this is not the first time that accountants have tried to eat the established law firms’ lunch. Alongside their traditional strengths in advisory, tax and consulting, the big accounting firms have long sought to disrupt the legal services market. As long ago as 1993, Arthur Andersen set up its own UK law firm, Garrett & Co. There was even talk of a merger between Simmons & Simmons and Andersen’s legal arm back in the late 1990s.

It remains to be seen if the accountants will have more success this time. However, with legal budgets under pressure, the emergence of new competitors in the legal services market can only be a good thing for in-house lawyers.

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