PwC, the Accounting Giant, Will Open a Law Firm in the U.S.


Image: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 7 More London Riverside, London, SE1 2RT
As seen in The New York Times
 
PwC headquarters in London. The accounting giant plans to open a Washington law firm this month to attract global business clients based in the United States. Credit Pictures Ltd., via Getty Images

Law firms already elbowing one another for multinational clients will soon have a new competitor: The Big Four accounting firm PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, plans to open a law firm in Washington, D.C., next week.

The law firm, ILC Legal, will advise clients on international matters such as corporate restructuring. Its lawyers will act as special legal consultants, rather than fully licensed United States lawyers, allowing them to provide counsel on foreign law but not United States law.

ILC Legal, nonetheless, aims to vie with big law firms as a one-stop shop offering multinational companies access to other PwC services, including tax consulting and its network of 3,200 lawyers spread across 90 countries. The firms in that network operate separately but follow the same standards and practices under the PwC brand name.

“We won’t be a traditional law firm, where legal services are offered in isolation, but one part of a broader offering,” said Richard J. Edmundson, a British solicitor based in London who is PwC’s leader of international business reorganizations.

Mr. Edmundson will lead the new firm. “There will be five international lawyers and myself, from London,” he said in a phone interview on Friday. “They are Spanish, Canadian, Polish and German attorneys who have been practicing at PwC network member firms outside of the U.S.”

Another advantage of opening ILC Legal in Washington is its proximity to clients based in the United States, Mr. Edmundson said. “We can talk to them in real time and put them in contact with others more easily,” he said.

ILC Legal hopes to attract multinational companies seeking counsel in areas like digital security and data protection, dispute resolution, international corporate structuring, and mergers and acquisitions, Mr. Edmundson said. It will operate like a traditional law firm, soliciting clients and billing them directly for services.

Although overall client demand for legal services is flat and corporations are increasingly handling routine business internally, Mr. Edmundson said he hoped ILC Legal would eventually add more international lawyers. “We hope it will grow,” he said.

PwC is not the only accounting giant offering legal services. Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young, now known as EY, also have more than 2,000 lawyers each.

“The difference is that PwC is the first to create a separate legal entity,” said Jeffrey Lowe, the law firm practice group leader at Major, Lindsey & Africa, a legal recruiting firm in New York.

Traditional law firms can take some solace in the restrictions that ILC Legal must follow in the United States. Current law generally does not allow accounting firms to provide nonauditing services, including legal services, to companies they audit. That means ILC Legal can provide services only to companies that are not PwC auditing clients.

 

PwC’s decision to open a law firm in the United States, which was first disclosed this week in The American Lawyer, faced another restriction: Most American jurisdictions prohibit nonlawyers from owning or operating law firms or sharing fees with nonlawyers. Washington, however, does not ban firms owned by nonlawyers.

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24 Dec 2017