This is a reaction to the above headline currently trending on social media. DNL Legal and Style commenced its report on the results of 4 cases brought by a legal practitioner against these accounting firms as follows: “The Federal High Court has barred the big four accounting and consulting firms in Nigeria; KPMG, PWC, Ernst & Young and Deloitte from providing legal services in Nigeria.”
With all due respect the consent judgements entered in all the four cases does not advance in any way the complaints of legal practitioners generally that, accounting firms providing what in essence are legal opinions by way of their providing business advisory services. The Nigerian legal profession has no cause to jubilate. The big four have never held themselves out to be anything other than accounting firms: as such, a concession that they are not legal practitioners does not in any way change the legal landscape. To the best of my knowledge none of these accounting firms have ever purported to draft or frank any legal document the purpose of which is to transfer an interest in property. Neither have they done the same with respect to the grant of letters of probate or administration. As the Big 4 have never provided the services listed in the judgement, I fail to understand the basis for our jubilation.
To the extent that “legal services” are not defined in any legislation, nothing in the consent judgments stops them [or any other person or business entity] from providing and continuing to provide their interpretation or opinions on business related legislation, such as CAMA, the Finance Act, tax laws, immigration laws and regulatory compliance issues, so long as such opinions do not contain the seal which a legal practitioner is required to affix to the set of documents set out the Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 10 defines ‘legal documents which require a seal and stamp approved by the Nigerian Bar Association as “including pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agreements, deed letters, memoranda, report[s], legal opinions or any similar documents.” The words ‘including’ and ‘any similar documents’ makes the scope of such documents amorphous. Without legislation or litigation to define the scope, it will be difficult to say when any breaches occur.
We should not chastise the Big 4 for seeking to take over the space that the legal profession has vacated.
Until such time as a Legal Services Act is enacted which fully describes the content and context of “legal services” and regulates how such legal services are to be delivered, what the legal profession needs to do is to competently fill that space by providing competitive business advisory services, similar in depth of scope and context as that presently being provided by accounting firms and management consultants. Nature abhors a vacuum.