KPMG U.K. legal services head Nick Roome

KPMG is aiming to almost double head count in its global legal services arm to more than 3,000 lawyers in the next few years, as the Big Four firm plots ambitious growth.

The accounting giant’s legal team currently comprises 1,800 lawyers across offices in 75 countries, and U.K. legal services head Nick Roome said it is exploring new jurisdictions, including in the Far East.

The firm is also aiming to expand its current 130-lawyer U.K. team, with a number of “senior” hires in the pipeline, Roome told Legal Week, Law.com’s London-based publication.

Roome has now led KPMG’s legal business for two and a half years, after joining from DLA Piper in July 2014—shortly before the Solicitors Regulation Authority awarded KPMG its alternative business structure (ABS) license.

Since then, KPMG has scaled its ambitions and made a concerted push into the U.K. legal market, adding to its legal services practices in London and Manchester with a new base in Birmingham in 2015, and making hires from firms including Eversheds Sutherland and Shoosmiths.

During the past 18 months, the firm has doubled head count in its partner and director group.

“The ABS license leveled the playing field,” said Roome. “We are now not constrained in how we want to build our legal services business, and can get on with growing our capabilities to meet the market opportunity.”

The license, he added, helps assure clients that KPMG is operating under the same regulatory principles as a traditional law firm.

“It gives clients that comfort that you’re operating on the same regulatory basis as any other lawyer,” he said.

While the Big Four push into legal services has worried many in the legal arena, Roome is keen to dispel any idea that traditional law firms have anything to fear, stressing that KPMG has significant relationships with some firms. For example, KPMG recently turned to magic circle firm Linklaters for advice on the Competition and Markets Authority’s review of the audit sector.

However, Roome acknowledged that increasing client demand for integrated services does give the Big Four a significant advantage over some law firms.

“We run an integrated practice,” he said. “So it’s not just a KPMG lawyer working with a client. It’s a multidisciplinary team working with a client. That’s fundamentally the difference between us and a law firm.”

While claiming that KPMG is “not trying to build a law firm within an accounting firm”, Roome believes that “insight [at traditional firms] is not going to be as broad”.

“We offer different types of insight, and our lawyers have the opportunity to absorb things in the wider context of our business,” he said. “It’s not about a single capability. We’ve not been around for as long as traditional law firms, but our legal business is maturing year on year, and the market is starting to see us as a more established player.”

The legal services arm operates four core service lines: business structures and transactions; tax disputes and investigations; employment and immigration; and “new law” and global, which handles filing and regulatory process work for clients.

Among the accounting elite, immigration, in particular, has lately come to the fore. This summer, Deloitte formed an alliance with U.S. immigration law firm Berry Appleman & Leiden, and PwC subsequently followed suit, announcing its own tie-up with U.S. firm Fragomen.

While KPMG has no current plans to form such an alliance of its own, Roome highlighted the area’s strategic importance to the firm, and attributes the renewed immigration focus to an upsurge in demand among corporations for more certainty on worker rights and movement of people in view of Brexit, among other considerations.

In the recruitment context, Roome said KPMG “doesn’t tend to lose lawyers to traditional law firms” and added that general counsel are becoming more inclined to look to the Big Four rather than traditional law firms for legal talent.

“Lawyers are interested in what we’re building,” he said. “The breadth of skills, perspective and insight, which lawyers operating at KPMG would develop, would likely make them more attractive for roles in industry.”