As the Big Four consultancy firms increasingly invade the legal space, so too are some of the largest Australian law firms making moves to increase their professional service offering by moving into non-legal consulting services such as political lobbying and risk advisory services.
For instance, Minter Ellison is leading the consultancy service charge and has already changed its promotional efforts from describing itself as ‘Australia’s largest law firm’ to labelling itself as a professional advisory firm offering multi-service advisory work for clients under its chief executive and managing partner Virginia Briggs (pictured).
The AFR said that 14 law firms were providing consulting services, as disclosed in the Australian Financial Review Law Partnership Survey, while another two law firms have long-established services that fall outside traditional legal services.
Seven law firms specifically ruled out moving beyond law: Piper Alderman, Johnson Winter & Slattery, Wotton + Kearney, Hunt & Hunt, Jackson McDonald, Cooper Grace Ward and Meridian Lawyers.
“From a workplace perspective, clients are engaging us on how to: ensure physically and psychologically safe workplaces, reform their systems and processes to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, conduct effective workplace investigations, use new form [non-disclosure agreements],” Briggs said.
Minter Ellison’s advisory practice now has over 100 people within the group and provides services to help in-house legal teams as well as advising across a range of areas.
Clayton Utz’s approach is to offer clients a range of digital tools to assist with tasks such as checking that staff are not being underpaid.
Its chief executive partner, Bruce Cooper, said the firm would continue to “expand our existing forensic and technology services offering which includes a tool that which employers test their payment compliance”. Cooper said the “intersection between legal services and technology and the smart use of data … is something that we continue to develop as a critical adjacency to provide more efficient and sophisticated legal services”.
Ashursts have over 60 in their consultancy team, focused on areas like technology and cyber security.
However other firms are expanding their consultancy services into other areas. Thomson Geer’s lobbying business, TG Public Affairs, provides the firm’s clients with access to a team of political lobbyists. The firm was recently involved in lobbying on behalf of Google over the detail of the federal government’s media code.
Dentons launched a separate consulting business mid-year, Dentons Global Advisors, which offers services including lobbying, political risk advisory and crisis management. The new consulting business is part of a network with Albright Stonebridge Group, the US-headquartered consulting firm chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
As the Big Four consultancy practices continue their move into legal territory it is clear that the larger law firms are not shrinking from taking the battle to them too, while doing everything they can to retain their legal clout.