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Christopher Tite and Mark Lewis are planning to take a team of 20 lawyers with them when they leave PricewaterhouseCoopers' associate firm Landwell to launch Ernst & Young's correspondent firm.
The exodus would mean about 20 per cent of Landwell's lawyers leaving the firm.
In July, Tite told The Lawyer that the firm would have 250 fee earners within two years. "People want to join us because we offer an exciting exciting career working with world class clients," he said.
An Ernst & Young spokesman says: "As far as I understand I don't think either party is in a position to say what that number might or might not be."
Tite and Lewis were the heads of Coopers & Lybrand's associate firm - named after the pair - before it was forced to merge with Price Waterhouse's Arnheim & Co following the big five accountants' merger in 1998. Arnheim Tite changed its name to Landwell in October last year.
They had a strained relationship with Arnheim & Co's founder Chris Arnheim, who stood down as joint senior partner with Lewis of the merged firm in July last year. He moved to PwC's London Bridge headquarters to work on international strategy.
Following Tite and Lewis's resignations, Arnheim has taken over as head of the firm. Tite and Lewis's departure for Ernst & Young flies in the face of the accountant's stated ambition to acquire a UK firm rather than launch its own practice.
Their departure is the second time in the last year that a rival accountant has raided Landwell to start its own associate firm. Last May, six partners left to start KLegal, the legal arm of KPMG.
Arnheim was not available for comment when The Lawyer went to press.