- Over the last five years, more professionals have moved from the Big Four to Big Law.
- While some have become lawyers, many have joined law firms on the business side.
- Law firms are hiring nonlawyers to stay competitive and manage billions of dollars in revenue.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Law firms are under increasing pressure to act like businesses, but that’s creating new career opportunities for top Big Four talent to make the switch to Big Law.
Every year, hundreds of employees leave their jobs at the Big Four accounting firms — KPMG, EY, PwC, and Deloitte — for new gigs at large law firms, according to employment data provider Revelio Labs. While some accounting firm alumni change careers and become lawyers, many others are non-lawyers who join law firms on the business side to do pricing, audit, marketing, or other operational work.
Traditionally, law firms have tapped high-performing partners for management roles. But in recent years, as big firms have grown to more than 1,000 professionals and billions of dollars in annual revenue, many are instead staffing their C-suites and business departments with Big 4 alumni. Husch Blackwell’s CEO, Paul Eberle, and Levenfeld Pearlstein’s CEO, Angela Hickey, are both nonlawyers.
Amanda Bradey, a recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa, said that about 95% of the time, law firms are now willing to hire non-lawyers for open C-suite roles.
Insider spoke with three business professionals — in the pricing, marketing, and audit fields — about what they found when they left the Big Four for Big Law.
Barry Mehew, chief pricing and value officer at Mayer Brown
Barry Mehew spent much of his career doing finance work and accounting at EY before a six-year stint at Accenture, where he worked on HR business process outsourcing and developed an expertise in pricing.
He was recruited by employment law firm Littler Mendleson in 2010 to set up its pricing department.
Though lawyers traditionally bill clients at an hourly rate, law firms are increasingly open to alternative fee arrangements. Pricing professionals, relatively new in the legal industry, work with clients to find discounts and creative staffing plans to lower client costs while keeping the law firm in the black.
The Great Recession put cost pressure on law firms, giving Mehew a chance to break into the industry, he said.
“What’s common about all of the roles in accounting and consulting firms is the clients: all of the roles were pretty client-centric, even though they were financial roles,” he said. “There’s a parallel there with law firms.”
After four years at Littler, Mehew joined Mayer Brown in 2013 and has been leading the firm’s pricing strategy and helping with legal project management ever since.
Mehew said the lawyers he worked with used to be reluctant to put business people in front of clients, but that the culture has changed in recent years.
“Partners have realized what people in my sort of role can bring to the table, and that expertise is almost demanded by clients,” he said. “Pricing, client value, legal project management, and innovation have all really grown over the last five to 10 years, and we now have a voice in the industry, which is just great.”
Deborah Ruffins, chief marketing officer at Perkins Coie
Deborah Ruffins said she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a “chief” and that she wanted to be in marketing, but it wasn’t until later in her career that she found the right job fit.
After earning a degree in finance, Ruffins spent nearly 12 years in marketing and business development for Deloitte, PwC, and Accenture. In 2013, she made the switch to Big Law, working at Bingham McCutchen, Hogan Lovells, and now Perkins Coie.
“It’s not that I dislike accountants, but I really found my place with the lawyers — I get how they think,” she said, adding that she hopes to stay in the legal industry for the rest of her career.
While lawyers are expected to develop their own relationships with clients and bring in business, the role of marketing professionals in the legal industry has grown in recent years as the client landscape has become more competitive and as firms work to sell more services to existing clients.
Ruffins said the legal industry has become more competitive since she joined nearly a decade ago. Since the demand for legal services isn’t growing much, law firm marketing teams have to work much harder to earn clients, she said.
On top of that, lawyers are often risk-averse, which can cause tension with creative marketing ideas, Ruffins says. But as the years have gone on, she’s found that law firms are more willing to embrace new ideas.
Dr. Patricia Scipio, internal audit and risk manager at Hogan Lovells
The bread and butter work of the Big Four is accounting and auditing, and those skills are especially important in law firms, which have to manage clients’ risk and help them stay legally compliant. Patricia Scipio, the former director of risk assurance at PwC, joined Hogan Lovells in 2016 as an internal auditor and risk manager.
Scipio said her experience at a professional service firm made for a “seamless” transition to a big law firm, since all organizations need risk management programs.
Law firm risk managers work with the general counsel to develop risk management policies and communicate them to lawyers at the firm and clients.
“The advantage is understanding that the attorney, as well as the accountant, both have to build and sustain long-term client relationships,” Scipio said. At PwC, she pitched work, wrote proposals, negotiated fees, built teams, and developed subject matter expertise — technical skills that she was easily able to parlay when she started working with attorneys.