Nick Roome, national head of KPMG Law, joined the Big Four firm early in the establishment of its UK legal practice in 2014.
He tells The Brief about the opportunities for clients and lawyers alike that come from integrating legal services with other professional disciplines through a client solutions lens, and explains why he believes this model will become much more prevalent in the years ahead.
In 2014 KPMG became the first of the “Big Four” professional services firms (the others being Deloitte, EY and PwC) to establish an integrated legal practice in the UK authorised and regulated as a multi-disciplinary Alternative Business Structure. This was something that had only become possible following the passage of the Legal Services Act 2007, which for the first time permitted non-lawyers to own regulated law firms.
Over the intervening seven years the firm’s UK legal operation has grown to employ almost 180 lawyers and approaching 30 partners and directors. According to Nick Roome, partner and UK head of KPMG Law, the plan is to maintain, and in some areas accelerate, this growth trajectory for the foreseeable future. The firm as a whole now has over 2,850 lawyers in 81 countries.
While the inclusion of legal services in integrated professional services businesses is a relatively new development in the UK, it is much more mature in other parts of the world, particularly Europe. KPMG’s legal practice in Germany, for example, has been in existence for over 20 years and, according to Roome, is “probably around number 15” in that country’s legal market: “They’re a really, really big business in Germany.”
Spain is another major market for KPMG Law. The business has also been making significant investments around the Asia Pacific region. However, the UK operation is, strategically, particularly important.
Roome explains, “If you look at the global legal market you’ve got the US followed by the UK as the two biggest markets in the world, and from a regulatory perspective the US is off-limits for the Big Four at the moment. They’ve still, for the time being, got the position that we used to have in the UK, where regulated legal practice can only be carried out by law firms owned by lawyers.
“That means the UK is essentially our biggest market, so it’s a hugely important practice to the global network. The UK legal market is mature, sophisticated, it’s pushing the boundaries around what you can do in the legal sector, so having a strong UK legal practice is a cornerstone of our global strategy.”
Depth of integration
Roome, who was previously a corporate partner at DLA Piper, joined KPMG Law early in its development in 2014. His brief was initially to build the business in the North of England but within 18 months he was promoted his current role as UK head.
His initial reaction when approached about joining KPMG in 2013 was, he recalls, “What on earth do they want to talk to me for? But I soon went from being a sceptic to being quite excited about the role and its potential. It was a unique opportunity to feel part of a relative start-up but under the banner of a huge and sophisticated professional services firm.”
Although the Legal Services Act had passed into law in 2007, alternative business structures (ABSs) were still uncommon at this point. Roome had, he admits, not really given much thought to the regulation of the sector at that stage, or to the ways ABSs could change the way legal services were delivered.
“Then I started to think, if you can do everything you can do in a law firm, without any constraints, in a multidisciplinary firm that has a massive client base and so many different things going on, then that’s actually really exciting for a lawyer. That was the view I took, and it’s been a fantastic journey – challenging at times, but it has been phenomenal and I still believe passionately in the opportunity,” he says.
What really excites Roome, he continues, is the depth of integration between KPMG Law and the other aspects of the business. It is much more, he explains, than a case of existing tax or consulting clients being referred to a standalone legal practice that just happens to bear the KPMG name.
He explains, “We are incredibly closely integrated. We are fully embedded within the business, so I’m a partner of KPMG in exactly the same way as somebody who is a partner from tax or deal advisory or consulting – there is absolutely no difference.
“All our employees are employed by the same firm. The way the business organises itself is we have four capability areas: audit, consulting, deal advisory, and tax and legal.
“We sit in that tax and legal capability area. But it’s fully integrated so, in terms of the practicalities of working day-to-day, when you’re in the office you’re sat alongside colleagues from different disciplines and there are no limits in terms of who you can work with, which gives you the opportunity to genuinely integrate legal capability into the broader business.”
Rather than a client buying a legal, accounting or consulting service, Roome says they actually buy a solution to a business challenge, which might involve a wide range of professional disciplines. The KPMG Law business in the UK is structured around six core solution areas – Corporate Deals & Structuring, Family Office & Private Client Legal, Disputes, Commercial Technology & Data, Workforce and Legal Operations.
He says, “Clients are dealing with a whole range of complex business issues, and those issues typically involve a range of different aspects, not just legal. They might involve tax, they might involve advisory, they might need consulting support.”
Roome also says integration with the wider business means, perhaps counter-intuitively, that lawyers working for KPMG Law will often specialise more deeply in a particular area of their field of practice than might be the case when working for a traditional law firm. “We’re looking at driving higher levels of expertise around particular solutions for clients, using deep knowledge, repeatable experience, data and bespoke technology, so it’s a slightly more focused and niche model in many ways,” he explains.
A model for the future
While KPMG was the first of the Big Four to launch a legal arm, Roome believes that over the next decade we will see increasing numbers of firms developing multi-disciplinary offerings. Nor will this be limited to advisory firms with their roots in accountancy – some of the larger law firms have themselves already begun to get in on the act, launching their own tax structuring, deal advisory and consulting practices.
He also believes that, in general, the UK legal sector is about to enter a period of consolidation, partly led by the need to invest in technology. While he does not predict the disappearance of the traditional law firm, Roome does believe that, particularly as clients build up their in-house capability, “the bar to outsource work is going to get higher”, meaning firms will need to be able to offer a greater depth of expertise and capability than might previously have been the case.
Furthermore, KPMG Law is working with in-house counsel to enable them to transform their legal departments to embrace the evolving business models and digitisation in the profession.
He says, “For me the two big trends will be around consolidation and the move to multidisciplinary services. A multidisciplinary professional services firm makes a lot of sense for many things that clients want, and the only reason that we haven't had a market with a big presence of multidisciplinary professional services firms with a legal component before now was because we weren't allowed to do it from a regulatory perspective.”
While admitting “you might say I’m biased”, Roome says he believes this provides a great opportunity for lawyers starting out in their careers: “If you look at what you need to do as a lawyer, you need to have really strong legal skills, that’s a core baseline fundamental. But once you have those baseline skills you then start to need other things that give you the kind of business acumen that's really important for dealing with clients and allows you to differentiate yourself.
“I genuinely think it’s easier to get that broader perspective and business acumen by being in a professional services firm where what you see is broader than just law. And a firm the size of KPMG, because of its scale, and the range of things you pick up by osmosis, means you're in a very different position when you talk to clients because you naturally have a much broader perspective.”
- Connect with Nick Roome on LinkedIn