PriceWaterhouseCoopers will open Washington law firm

Law firms already elbowing one another for multinational clients will soon have a new competitor: PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Big Four accounting firm that now calls itself PwC, plans to open a law firm in Washington this 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 U.S. lawyers, allowing them to provide counsel on foreign law but not U.S. law.

ILC Legal, nonetheless, aims to vie with big law firms as a one-stop shop offering multinational companies access to other Pricewaterhouse 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 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 Edmundson, a British solicitor based in London who is the leader of international business reorganizations for the accounting giant and will lead the new firm.

“There will be five international lawyers and myself, from London,” he said in a phone interview Friday. They include Spanish, Canadian, Polish and German attorneys who have been practicing at firms in the network, he said.

Another advantage of opening ILC Legal in Washington is its proximity to U.S. clients, Edmundson said.

“We can talk to them … 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, Edmundson said. It will operate like a traditional law firm, soliciting clients and billing them directly for services.

Although overall demand for legal services is flat and corporations are increasingly handling routine business internally, Edmundson said he hopes that ILC Legal will eventually add more international lawyers.

“We hope it will grow,” he said.

Accounting giants Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young, which now calls itself EY, also offer legal services and have more than 2,000 lawyers each.

But PricewaterhouseCoopers 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.

Accounting firms are generally prohibited from providing legal or other services to companies they audit. That means ILC Legal can provide services only to companies that are not auditing clients.

The decision to open a law firm in the United States, which was first reported by the American Lawyer, faced another restriction: Most jurisdictions prohibit non-lawyers from owning or operating law firms or sharing fees with non-lawyers. Washington has no such rule.

Elizabeth Olson is a New York Times writer.

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