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There are very few global consulting and accounting firms, and this is already causing big problems for regulators, unhappy when the same companies audit the same accounts for years.

And for very good reasons.

We should be worried when auditors are from the same organisation as consultants, when huge companies find members of their teams on both sides of complex deals.

It is hardly surprising that so many audits of multinationals have turned out to be so misleading to investors.

Arthur Andersen disappeared almost overnight as a result of the Enron scandal, and it will only take one more such event to create a crisis, because only three global firms would remain.

Expect many further regulations about companies needing to change their auditors every few years, and more restrictions on conflicts of interest.

* "Life with AI - How to survive and succeed in a super-smart world" - Patrick Dixon's latest book on AI is published in September 2024 by Profile Books.  It contains 38 chapters on the impact of AI across different industries, government and our wider world, including future impact of AI on professional service firms including Law Firms and Accounting.

Auditors will be strictly audited

As I predicted, auditors are increasingly being held legally responsible when banks or insurers or other types of company fail spectacularly, soon after a clean audit.

It is outrageous that global auditors have been able to walk away without penalty, from large companies that collapse, only days or weeks after being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to vet them for accounting irregularities and risks.

Auditors will be called more strictly to account for such appalling failures in their own processes, for giving false and dangerous assurances, based on too narrow a view of he business.

Auditors will no longer be able to hide behind ‘standards of compliance’ in their audits.

They will be expected to probe for truth, to ask the difficult questions, to place their own reputations (and existence) on the line in robust assurances they give.

Legal services move to mass-market budget retail

Global law firms provide clusters of legal experts, able to take a view on highly complex issues, particularly across territories. Few are structured in the right way to support global companies in future, often led by senior partners who are professionally expert, but may be incompetent in a global CEO-type role.The most important question for a global law firm to answer is this:

If we were building a large firm from scratch, would it look like us? And if not, how can we fix? 

Expect to rapid change in how smaller-scale legal services are delivered, with a growing trend to ‘retail legal’ teams, operating out of call centres, shopping malls, and so on.

Or completely online firms using simple questionnaires to generate a huge number of highly complex, completely customized legal documents in seconds at very low cost. 

Many kinds of standard legal practice will be automated – including aspects of employment law, consulting contracts, buying and selling property, making a will, divorce proceedings, personal injury claims, and so on.

One-off legal advice will increasingly be offered online, either using chat screens or email, or video calls. We will also see more outsourcing of basic legal services by larger legal firms in developed nations, to teams in countries like India.

More countries will follow Australia and the UK in deregulation, to allow non-legal firms to offer such services, and teams of legal experts to raise capital in the markets.

We will see many new companies offering expert legal advice, in a highly efficient, rapid and customer-friendly way, breaking with all the familiar ways of doing things. 

False Memory Syndrome will continue to feature in legal actions which rely on uncorroborated accusations or confessions, especially over sexual behaviour – false memories can be implanted easily and unintentionally during conversations .

Law itself will change profoundly over the next two decades, influenced by every global trend.

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