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The Mad Clientist

EY Circles Its Legal Prey as It Acquires Riverview

By August 8, 2018April 16th, 2020No Comments

Another move, another round of guessing. The Big 4 legal services question is no longer if and when—it’s how much and how fast.

How are the Big 4 going to make their law splash known? EY just took another step closer. More of a baby step than PwC setting up a Washington, DC office, but a step none the less. EY’s acquisition of Riverview Law expands EY’s presence in the managed legal services game—a market where they already supply services.

Not Performing as Well as Law Firms

Currently, corporate counsel and legal decision makers rate legal outsource providers a 7.7 out of 10 for overall experience. By contrast, a primary law firm—who provides the same services—earns an 8.7 out of 10 for their client experience. Law firms have an edge, and Alternative Legal Services Providers (ALSPs) still have an uphill battle. This is one place where EY can crush its competitors—the firm’s knowledge of and ability to deliver an exceptional client experience is a differentiating source of advantage.

EY also knows how to scale and leverage technology. This is where their real strength plays out. When and how EY invests to scale will be the event to watch. Otherwise, the Big 4 firm is just another player in an early stage market.

Managed legal services gives EY additional exposure to the GC’s office—a maneuver critically needed to make a full-scale move into legal. EY will use this acquisition to further develop relationships, better understand client needs, and develop client-by-client strategies to sell legal services. This is no different than what the best performing law firms do. Law firms lacking client-specific plans are immediately at risk.

A Wide-Open Market

In the US, only 60% of GC offices have been approached by ALSPs. BTI research shows 39% of corporate legal departments have tried an ALSP in some form. This leaves more than half the US market untested and untapped. This also suggests the ALSP who can scale their sales and marketing first will have a serious advantage—at least in the US.

The decision to use ALSPs in the US sits squarely with the GC. They may get a slight nudge or push to use an ALSP from a CFO—but, few will question the Chief Legal Officer on this one. The CLO owns the risk—they own the decision.

The EY acquisition is one more prod to law firms to rethink their game. They don’t want to leave doors open for the Big 4 by staying out of the managed services game. Law firms can partner with managed service providers or do it themselves. ElevateNext comes to mind as a team talking about this for a long time and consists of Elevate and the founders of Valorem Law Group. But, even the firms not doing anything would benefit from making a formal assessment and decision instead of passively opting out.

The only events which would dampen the Big 4’s encroachment into legal would be an accounting crisis like Sarbanes-Oxley or the loss of a large accounting firm. Both are in the highly unlikely category. The future is now. Baby step or not—the Big 4 are here.

This is a small excerpt from our upcoming report, BTI Innovation Review and Outlook: Corporate Counsel Rank Law Firms and Their Needs 2019, to be released in September 2018. BTI analyzes the ALSP market as well as client innovation and technology needs, and ranks law firm performance—by name.


(Based on more than 400 in-depth interviews with strategically selected top legal decision makers in the US at companies with $1 billion or more in revenue between November 2017 and July 2018.)

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