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Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has the strongest non-law firm legal brand in the Asia Pacific region, according to the Asia Pacific Alternative Legal Brand Index 2018 published by London-based market research firm Acritas.

The index was Acritas’ first for the region and ranked five brands after asking in-house counsel to name their preferred non-law firm legal service providers. Three of the Big Four auditors—PwC, EY and KPMG—took the top three spots, and legal information providers LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters placed fourth and fifth, respectively.

PwC set the index at 100. The score for EY, the first runner-up, was only 55, making it a distant second.

“PwC Legal’s ambitious plans to become a global top 20 legal services player put growth in Asia at the top of its agenda—and our latest research shows this focus in terms of brand strength at least is paying dividends,” said David Johnson, account director at Acritas.

The accounting giant has recently been expanding in Hong Kong. Its legal practice—Tiang & Co.—was launched at the beginning of 2017 by David Tiang, formerly a Beijing-based partner with King & Wood Mallesons, and two former O’Melveny & Myers lawyers. In the past few months, it has been on a hiring spree, recruiting four partners with international law firm experience.

Second-place EY has also ramped up in Hong Kong, snapping up four lawyers from Troutman Sanders, including former corporate partner Rossana Chu as co-managing partner of its Hong Kong member firm LC Lawyers, which was launched in 2015. Chu told The Asian Lawyer that she planned to expand the Hong Kong office head count to 30 people by the end of 2019.

Third-place KPMG’s Asia Pacific legal services has a presence in Taiwan and Australia, where former King & Wood Mallesons global managing partner Stuart Fuller joined last year as regional leader.

“The legal industry is fixated on distinguishing work delivered by lawyers and nonlawyers but in reality, clients just want effective solutions to their broad portfolio of legal work,” said Acritas’ Johnson.

Acritas said the index was based on phone interviews with 221 senior in-house counsel from companies across 55 countries in the region with annual revenues of $50 million or more, and that were collectively responsible for $1.2 billion of legal spend. Interviews were conducted between January 2017 and June 2018. The senior in-house counsel were asked to name organizations that provide legal services, excluding law firms, that first come to mind, along with those they most favored. Acritas said no law firm or other third party had any involvement in selecting samples, analyzing or influencing responses or the Index rankings.

“A growing number of companies are implementing technology solutions to help access know-how and organize work, utilizing flexible and agile resources to fulfill fluctuating work volume and specialized expertise, or instructing professional services advisers who offer a holistic solution,” Johnson said.

“This is the legal industry reality in 2018. The coming years will favor those firms or nontraditional legal service providers most able to adapt and innovate in this new world,” he said.