Coopers to launch law firm in April

Big six accountancy practice Coopers & Lybrand is to set up its long-planned independent UK law firm at the end of April. It will be headed by Stephenson Harwood partners Mark Lewis and Christopher Tite.

The new firm is to be known for the purposes of Law Society rules as Tite & Lewis, but will trade under the name of International Business Law Partnership, and will form part of Coopers' international network of law firms which will be given the umbrella title of Coopers & Lybrand GIE.

Coopers says it will put 30 existing corporate, commercial and employment lawyers, currently within the accountancy practice, into the law firm and will be recruiting more. The firm will concentrate on the two partners' strengths in corporate and commercial work, employment and pensions, IT and IP, regulatory law, banking, project and asset finance.

Tite, head of privatisation at Stephensons is known to have been in serious discussions with Coopers since autumn.

Coopers has been looking to move into legal services in the UK since Big Six rival Arthur Andersen set up law firm Garrett & Co and Price Waterhouse set up Arnheim & Co.

But it suffered a serious set-back with the departure of 10 of its 14-strong legal tax team in the last half of 1996.

The departures included Reg Nock, the barrister who had at one time been looking at the regulatory problems of setting up a law firm, and Robin Preston, a former Theodore Goddard partner whose contract Coopers did not renew.

Coopers' UK partners have come under pressure to form a law firm from Gerard Nicolay, the head of the European legal network of Coopers' associated law firms, which currently has over 300 lawyers who see the UK as the largest market in Europe for legal services.

Nicolay, who is also the senior partner of the French associate law firm, said: “This is a very welcome development and a major step towards Coopers & Lybrand's international legal network becoming a leading provider of cross-border legal services.”

Lewis and Tite issued a joint statement claiming: “This will be a radical development in the UK market that will ultimately lead to a new way of practising law on a global scale.”

Geoffrey Howe, managing partner at Clifford Chance, played down the news. “It's clear that all accountancy firms are thinking of providing or increasing their legal services.

“In the sectors they decide to target there will be serious competition. In corporate finance, there is plenty of tough competition,” he said.

Stephenson Harwood has recruited Clifford Chance project finance partner Robin Neill.