Coopers examines legal options

ACCOUNTANTs Coopers & Lybrand may forge a strategic alliance with a City firm as part of ambitious plans to expand its legal services operations.

Coopers expects to unveil expansion measures this summer after a review of options, including tying with a law firm, outright merger or starting a legal practice from scratch.

“An alliance with established lawyers is obviously one route open to us,” said a Coopers spokesman. A final decision could come as early as June or July, he added.

The firm recently recruited ex-Theodore Goddard partner Robin Preston to look at developing its legal capability but denied speculation that the move heralded a merger.

Coopers is among the growing number of large accountancy firms which are thinking of boosting their legal services as competition intensifies with law firms, particularly for tax and corporate finance work.

In February, The Lawyer revealed that another of the big six, Price Waterhouse, is setting up its own legal practice. Rival Arthur Andersen offers fully fledged services though its UK associate Garrett & Co.

Insiders at Coopers say there is still “a body of opinion” against expansion but observers doubt that the status quo lobby will win the day.

Accountancy firms have long had in-house lawyers dealing with employee benefits but the trend appears to be towards creating full-blooded legal services within multi-disciplinary practices.

Over the years, lawyers have made steady inroads into corporate and personal taxation. Although fewer solicitors than accountants offer tax advice, the reputation of law firms is riding high.

Two years ago, Linklaters & Paines, Freshfields and Slaughter and May were named as the most successful UK firms in a survey by International Tax Review magazine.