Legal firms set to expand their services under new legislation
The 'one-stop shop' professional firm offering legal, accounting and other services under the one roof is set to become a reality in Hong Kong.
New legislation to be gazetted on Friday and introduced in the Legislative Council later this month allows the option for solicitors to practise in multi-disciplinary practices.
The legislation is set to dramatically change the face of the legal profession, with a number of international accounting firms - including Arthur Andersen - openly expanding their legal presence in the region.
Legal firms are also known to be exploring the possibility of expanding in a number of areas, including accounting and actuarial services, real estate and architecture.
Under the legislation, the Law Society has been given the power to make rules governing multi-disciplinary practices involving lawyers.
The legislation is seen as a means of making the market for the provision of legal services more competitive.
The Law Society has sounded a strong note of caution about the new rules.
The society's secretary-general, Patrick Moss, said: 'Multi-disciplinary partnerships are something that is worth looking at, but in the absence of conclusive evidence elsewhere that they are of benefit, we view them with some caution.
'We need to maintain the independence and the integrity of the profession.' One-stop shopping was all very well, but not always in the best interests of clients, raising issues of possible conflicts of interest and breaches of confidentiality, he said.
Accounting firms, however, may show less reticence in broadening their available services.
Arthur Andersen has revealed it is planning to use Asia as one of the centrepieces of its ambitious goal to become the world's largest law firm.
The firm runs major law operations in Europe, and over the past 18 months has been involved in an assault on the legal services market in Australia.
It is planning to group its accounting practices around the world into a single practice, possibly to be known as Andersen Legal.
Andersen has only a small presence in legal services in the region, and is planning a two-pronged strategy of buying existing law firms and starting new practices.
While the firm's accounting presence in Hong Kong is small relative to its international size, the firm's Asia-Pacific chief, John Burrows, is based in the territory and is known to have a keen interest in expanding the legal services business.
Mr Burrows said: 'Any move that allows multi-disciplinary firms into the marketplace is a fine one by me.
'It's very compatible with our plans, and it is good for the profession and good for the community.' KPMG sources said yesterday the firm was aware multi-disciplinary partnerships were an issue, but had not taken the matter forward very far.
KPMG is another accounting firm to have a significant international legal presence, mainly in Europe.
Mark Roberts, the senior partner of Deacons, one of the largest law firms in Hong Kong, said that a multi-disciplinary partnership was something the firm would have to give some thought to.
He agreed that some major accounting firms were starting to pose a threat in the legal services area.
CHANGING TIMES Law Society to set rules for practices involving lawyers Accountancy firms set to make drive into legal services Some law firms looking at expansion into other services