Some of the Big 4 consulting giants already think AI could trim years off the path to partner

Consulting giants and law firms are looking to artificial intelligence to speed up the time it takes junior staffers to make it to the prestigious partner level as the technology eliminates vast swaths of the repetitive, time-consuming tasks that typically filled up their first few years on the job.

At KPMG, for instance, freshly-minted graduates are now doing tax work that was previously reserved for staff with at least three years of experience. Over at PwC, junior staffers are spending more time pitching clients rather than the hours they used to spend prepping meeting documents. And at Macfarlanes LLP, junior lawyers are interpreting complex contracts that their more—experienced peers used to have to handle. 

“It’s a real balance because there is a great deal of benefit for learning by doing some of these documents, but do you need to do that for two years?” said Jeff Westcott, global director of innovation and practice technology at the law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. “Probably not. Once you’ve done it three or four times, you’re comfortable.”

If the early experimentation pans out, it would mark a seismic shift for professional services firms, which are known for subjecting junior staffers to years of tedious work before putting them on the path to becoming partner. That partner title translates to bigger client assignments and fatter paychecks.

It currently takes about a decade to make partner at a law firm, according to the Law Society, while the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants has found it takes an average of 17 years to reach that title at one of the so-called Big Four accounting giants. 

Making partner at the accounting giants are some of the highest paying jobs in the City of London. Partners at Ernst & Young LLP’s UK arm pocketed an average of £761,000 in its latest fiscal year, while over at Deloitte LLP such pay reached over £1 million this year. 

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP paid UK partners an average of £906,000 for the latest financial year, while such compensation at KPMG reached £717,000 in 2022, filings show.

“We are trying to take years off of the time it takes for somebody from when they’re hired to when they become a partner,” said Jeff Wong, who’s EY’s chief innovation officer. “We are specifically targeting certain accelerations and I know we have been successful along that pathway.”

The moves show how quickly corporations are looking to adopt generative AI, which was popularized by ChatGPT. The technology can produce sentences or essays in response to simple questions and it crafts these responses after being trained on reams of existing material.

KPMG executives now believe the company can save as much as 15 hours per worker every month with the help of AI, according to Stuart Tait, chief technology officer at the firm’s tax and legal arm in the UK.

For years, junior staffers at KPMG would spend hours deciphering information in a bevy of different sources, from the UK’s tax authority to internal databases. The firm decided to put all that information in one place and allow staffers to query the database using generative AI-powered technology, turning the first four hours of research into a task that now only takes minutes. 

“For many of us, we started our careers doing the necessary but often tedious work in support of senior professionals,” said Bret Greenstein, generative AI leader at PwC. “A lot of this work — writing drafts, taking meeting minutes, researching topics — is greatly aided by GenAI today. This allows junior employees to be more productive and impactful much quicker.”

Subscribe to the Eye on AI newsletter to stay abreast of how AI is shaping the future of business. Sign up for free.

Article Source

Leave a Comment