The new partnership between Deloitte and Epstein Becker Green’s employment law practice is a strong indicator that Big Four accountancies are evolving to become more enmeshed with law firms in the U.S., according to firm consultants.
The new arrangement will allow Deloitte Legal to introduce existing employment, labor and workforce clients to Epstein Becker Green as its “preferred provider” in the U.S., while the firm will refer existing clients to Deloitte for overseas legal work.
It’s the third “strategic alliance” announced in the last year between an American firm and a member of the Big Four, but it’s one that’s piqued particular interest as law firms decide how to contend with the legal market incursions from Deloitte, as well as the other Big Four accountancies, PwC, KPMG, and EY.
The scope of the Deloitte deal, coupled with an unpredictable and fast-evolving legal market, could spur other large and mid-size law firms seeking to broaden their reach to consider similar arrangements, said Bruce MacEwen, president of Adam Smith, Esq., a legal industry consulting group.
About now, Epstein Becker Green’s competitors may be thinking that “maybe we should be talking to one of the other three” of the Big Four, he said. “Or maybe we should be talking to an Elevate, a UnitedLex, or another New Law company,” he said. Elevate and UnitedLex are major providers of legal services, consulting and tech solutions for law firms and law departments.
The deal certainly has some potential upsides for Epstein Becker Green and Deloitte, which worked for the last half-year to get it in place.
A key impact of the partnership deal will be Epstein Becker Green’s ability “to now compete in a different way in the U.S. market,” said Marcie Borgal Shunk, president of the Tilt Institute, a law firm consultancy.
Because of Deloitte’s tax and compliance expertise—not to mention its worldwide scope, overall size advantages, and legal tech firepower—the deal gives the law firm “the ability to offer a holistic set of services,” Borgal Shunk said.
For example, within the labor and employment legal space, there are “elements of decision-making regarding how to treat employees that are outside the purview of lawyers,” she said. Because of the deal, clients of Epstein Becker Green’s 200-lawyer labor and employment practice could benefit by gaining access to more multi-faceted perspectives on those issues.
Epstein Becker Green will also have increased opportunity to reach clients outside the U.S. with the support of Deloitte.
This is not the first “strategic alliance” pairing a law firm with a Big Four firm. Last June, immigration law firm called Berry Appleman & Leiden entered into an alliance with the British arm of Deloitte, allowing the firm access to Deloitte’s worldwide customer base.
Three months later, PwC and the immigration firm Fragomen announced a partnership to provide tax and immigration services to clients and their employees.
MacEwen said deals like this are indicative of the fast changing nature of legal work as it expands outside the scope of traditional legal practices.
He said the alliance reflects the idea that “there’s no such market for ‘law firm services’ anymore,” he said. Instead, the market is now for the legal services industry in a broader sense.
Whether the Deloitte and Epstein Becker Green deal will shape how labor and employment firms do business is another question.
A leader of a top competitor of Epstein Becker Green’s told Bloomberg Law he understood why Deloitte might make such a deal. “They can say to their clients, ‘here’s a firm we can introduce you to,’” said Chuck Baldwin, a managing director with Ogletree Deakins.
“It’s an expansion boost for Epstein, and a cross-selling opportunity for Deloitte,” said Baldwin.
Yet he doesn’t see the move upending the large market for legal services in the labor and employment space.
He said he’s not concerned that Ogletree will be affected, as the firm has 950 lawyers located in 53 offices throughout the U.S. as well as international lawyers.
“We still feel really good about our competitive position,” he said. “For them to compete with us, they’d have to open 30 other offices in the U.S. alone.”