THE DEMISE of multidisciplinary practice KPMG Legal saw the transfer of six partners to Middletons Lawyers at the beginning of April.
But, instead of picking up lawyers, secretaries, files and reels of legal brief ribbon and moving into Middletons’ offices, the former legal arm has stayed put and it is Middletons’ Sydney office that has found itself relocating.
The new Middletons partners claimed it was actually a merger that took place in April, and a close relationship with KPMG still exists.
Although the merged firm will be called Middletons Lawyers, it is located in the KPMG offices in Sydney. And the expanded firm will continue servicing KPMG Legal clients.
The move saw Middletons grow to 47 partners, 144 solicitors and a total of 309 staff nationally with the appointment of KPMG Legal’s Murray Deakin, managing partner Jeff Goss, Jane Anne Gray, David Morris, Michael Reed and Geoff Taperell.
Former KPMG Legal managing partner Jeff Goss told Lawyers Weekly at the time of the collapse of KPMG Legal that the firm had been trying to find a firm that could take on the legal team, and “we hit it off with Middletons”.
The transition was a smooth one, Goss said. “This was due in part to the IT people on both sides,” he said. Everyone has settled into level three, Number 10 Chelley Street, Goss said.
Claiming that the co-location with KPMG was no different to a tenant in a building being close to other tenants, Deakin said it was an advantage to be in close proximity to KPMG, “in regard to accessing their expertise and them using our legal services”.
“We will continue to work with KPMG in servicing their legal requirements and also KPMG clients who require legal expertise and assistance,” Deakin said.
Already, those clients who had to stop using KPMG Legal for audit-independence reasons are now sending work to the newly formed Middletons partnership, Goss said. “It’s good the relationships were strong enough for them to continue using us after everything.”
Apart from using each other’s skills and services, “our systems are independent and secure”, Deakin said. “And we have our own reception.” Middletons, although co-locating with KPMG, was still very much its own firm, Deakin said.
“The principal difference is our independence from KPMG,” Deakin said. “We are now an independent firm which enables KPMG to comply with the stricter audit independence rules which have developed in the US and the world.”
Pressed as to the advantages of working within an independent commercial law firm, Deakin said the day-to-day dealings were very much the same. “The practice of law within Middletons is not materially different to the practice of law within KPMG,” he said. “We are still servicing the clients we were servicing before.”
“It’s been a very good development in that we have merged with a first class commercial law firm, yet we are still co-located with KPMG,” Deakin said. “My office has not changed during the entire process.”
“We’ve mixed people up between former KPMG people and Middletons people, and the relationships are working well, which is very pleasing.” For Goss, this in part demonstrated that the firm had made the right decision in merging with Middletons.
Claiming the firm had been particularly busy of late, Deakin said this could be because of “an upturn in general demand”, or it could be a result of the merger.
Clients appreciate the advantages the merger brought to them, he said, suggesting the firm could now concentrate on the work and less on audit independence concerns.
“We no longer need to be concerned with audit independence. The merger clarifies [the work] and allows us to get on with each transaction or project.”
Staff also appreciated the continuity of the move and “their relationship with KPMG and their relationship with KPMG clients”, he said.