The global accounting firm Baker Tilly, seeking to expand the range of services it can offer clients, is looking to partner with a U.S. law firm. This move would mirror the alliance it announced last year with the U.K. law practice Freeths. That move made Freeths the first stand-alone law firm in Europe to become an independent member of Baker Tilly’s network.
“The legal network for Baker Tilly will be in the U.S. in the near future,” said Alan Whitman, the CEO of Baker Tilly US and the chairman of Baker Tilly International’s board of directors.
States such as Arizona and Utah are already testing new legal service-delivery models, and non-lawyer-owned legal operations are beginning to gain footholds in those state. If Baker Tilly is successful in finding a partner, it could boost competition for U.S. law firms.
Whitman has not named any specific U.S. law firms that Baker Tilly International may work with, but he did say the firm aims for an arrangement in the U.S. similar to its arrangement with Freeths.
“There are at least a few firms that could work well with us,” Whitman said. “Even if we’re not merging, we need to have cultural alignment so we can work together.”
Baker Tilly is the 10th largest accounting firm in the world as of 2022 in terms of revenue. It’s combined international revenue is roughly $4.3 billion, while its U.S. revenue in 2022 is predicted to be around $1.5 billion. Just 22 law firms in the U.S. have yearly revenues in excess of that number.
Two years ago, Arizona did away with its rule barring fee-sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers, and several other U.S. states are considering loosening their bans on non-lawyers owning law firms.
For example, Utah initiated a program to test new legal ownership models in 2020, and larger states like California, Illinois, and New York have also considered making changes.
If states do in fact amend their laws, it could open law firms up to direct outside investment and, for the first time ever, allow the Big Four accountancies and others to compete head-to-head with them in the U.S.