Accounting News Roundup: Big 4 vs. Big Law; SEC Hack; EY Hiring in Orlando | 09.22.17

By | September 22, 2017

Big 4 vs. Big Law

Yesterday we learned that PwC would be launching a law firm in the U.S., but that might just the beginning. A recent report from ALM Intelligence states that “Within 10 years, the Big Four could easily become the largest players in the legal industry.” That same report found that nearly two-thirds of law firm leaders were “concerned” or “very concerned” about “alternative legal service providers and accounting firms” and 69 percent of these leaders consider accounting firms to be “a major threat.”

Some law firms couldn’t care less. I doubt anyone at Wachtell is concerned about the Big 4 stealing any of their business. Certain law firms are in another stratosphere when it comes to reputation and brand. Also, I don’t see the Big 4 poaching litigators anytime soon.

No, the Big 4 will focus on their strengths — ubiquity, deep pockets, and willingness to do anything. All of the Big 4 already have attorneys in more countries than any of the global law firms; they have far more resources; and they provide just about any service, short of media buying and human trafficking, although we wouldn’t totally rule out the latter.

Since we’ve been talking about this trend for awhile, now the question becomes: “What’s next?” The answer might obviously be: “World domination,” but it’s not a foregone conclusion. The Big 4 shoved its way into legal services in the 1990s with some success, but then the American Bar Association started throwing its weight around, Enron happened, Andersen bit the dust, and Sarbanes-Oxley became a thing. That slowed the Big 4 down, but here we are, 15 years after SOX and they’re lobbying to dilute its reforms, they’ve built massive digital agencies, and now PwC is opening a law firm in D.C. Imagine what could happen in the next 15 if this continues unfettered.

I’m not saying that we’re on the precipice of seeing a dystopian global professional services behemoth emerge, but right now it’s hard to see what would stop it from happening.

Hacks

Although we all know the hack at the SEC doesn’t resonate too much with the average American, other people think it should:

“There is treasure trove of information at the SEC and I want people to understand this isn’t some kind of victimless crime,” Rep. Bill Huizenga (R., Mich.), who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees the SEC, said in an interview. “This is an important thing for confidence in the markets.”

It’s hard to disagree, especially if you’re one of those “corporations are people” people. It’s also a little unusual that some of the top people at the SEC only learned about the hack shortly before the rest of us did:

SEC commissioner Michael Piwowar, who ran the SEC as acting chairman for three months earlier this year, said late Wednesday that he was only recently informed of the hack of the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval System, known as Edgar. Another SEC commissioner, Kara Stein, was told of the breach this week, a person familiar with the matter said.

“I was totally unaware of any breach that occurred in 2016,” said Jeffrey Heslop, the SEC’s former chief operating officer who stepped down in February. “If there was a significant hack of any system at the SEC, I would have been made aware of it.”

Eek. Has the federal bureaucracy not adopted the “If you see something, say something,” motto? Someone throw a few posters up over there.

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The featured job this week is an Accounting Manager with Murray, Stok & Company in San Francisco, Calif.

Previously, on Going Concern…

I tepidly endorsed the suggestion that the new revenue recognition standard needs a sexy nickname. I’d nominate Tim Gearty for the job for the job of coming up with it.

In Open Items, an accounting graduate can’t get a job.

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