ABS licence will give PwC Legal “rocket fuel”, says UK chief

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7 February 2014

Brookes: access to greater investment

PwC Legal’s alternative business structure (ABS) licence will give its expansion plans “rocket fuel”, its UK senior partner has claimed.

PricewaterhouseCoopers last week became the first of the ‘big four’ accountants to become an owner of a law firm, although the Solicitors Regulation Authority has imposed various conditions on the relationship between the two sides.

PwC will become a corporate member of PwC Legal’s partnership, currently made up of 22 equity and salaried partners.

Speaking to Legal Futures, senior partner Shirley Brookes agreed with those describing the move as a ‘game changer’. “Having PwC as an owner gives access to greater investment and allows us to work together to enhance services to clients,” she said.

“One of our selling points has always been our broad, business focused approach and the ABS means we can capitalise on this further.”

She said the move had always been the plan and formalises the relationship the pair already have. But the investment that PwC can now provide will act as “rocket fuel for PwC Legal”. Ms Brookes said: “We have grown hugely over the last five years and we expect that to continue.”

This will be both to strengthen the areas in which PwC Legal is already established – ranging from corporate structuring to immigration – and also develop new areas of law which further its strategy of providing complementary services to PwC’s. Currently 200-strong, she would not predict how large the practice would be in five years, but said the security of having PwC behind it allowed the firm to invest for the long term.

Though not an explicit aim, Ms Brookes reckoned PwC Legal could in time “be up there with the magic circle” in certain areas. The arrangement “gives clients much greater choice of where to buy legal advice… They can buy a whole variety of services under one roof”. It also means global clients can have a single point of contact across the various services they receive from PwC.

However, PwC will not be required to instruct its legal arm, Ms Brookes said. “We will always consider a matter on its facts and always do what is best for the client in any circumstance.” The two already pitch for work together, however.

So far as the licence conditions are concerned, she said: “Clients will have access to the full range of services from PwC, but, as before, it will be very clear when clients are receiving legal advice. The ABS will help us build our complementary services further.”

As the only freestanding law firm attached to one of the ‘big four’, Ms Brookes said “we are well ahead of the game”.

Noting last week’s Legal Futures headline – ‘Here come the big boys’ – she also pointed out that a third of the firm’s partners and more than half of its lawyers are women.

PwC Legal’s roots stretch back to 1996, when City solicitor Chris Arnheim set up Arnheim & Co in association with Price Waterhouse, as it then was. Following the PwC merger, in 1998 Arnheim & Co merged with Tite & Lewis, then the law firm associated with Coopers & Lybrand. After some years known as Landwell, the practice became PwC Legal in 2006.

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