Ernst & Young’s legal network is to hold a referendum on its controversial business model, effectively giving its member law firms until September to commit to a ‘close links’ strategy with its big four accounting parent or leave.

The Paris-based network is calling on all of its member firms to sign up to a formal agreement tying practices together with a unified code of conduct, formal referral system and a new executive committee and global council.

The strategy is being spearheaded by Ernst & Young Law Alliance (EY Law) chief Patrick Bignon. The former Andersen Legal head drew up the plan four weeks ago, in what promises to be a decisive test on the future of the network at a time of mounting regulatory pressure on audit-tied law practices.

Senior EY Law partners have said that member firms have no choice but to conform to Bignon’s strategy or fully withdraw from the legal group. One senior European partner said: “We are overcoming internal issues and anyone who is not supporting the push is free to leave.”

The aim is to tie the loosely allied member firms in the 2,500-lawyer network into a more closely integrated group that will actively cross-sell with the big four accountant’s tax and consultancy divisions.

EY Law partners added that EY Law’s management had held a number of meetings with member firms during the past four weeks to explain the strategy and drum up support.

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