PwC takes on Aussie legal market with hire of ex-KWM partners

Former King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) partners Tony O’Malley and Tim Blue, who set up a Sydney boutique earlier this year, have joined accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to launch an Australian legal services arm.

PwC, whose legal business PwC Legal employs over 2,000 lawyers in 80 countries and turns over in the region of £260m, is targeting annual turnover of A$100m (£56m) from the Australian business, which will also focus on the Asia Pacific region.

PwC Australia chief executive Luke Sayers said the launch of a legal services arm was a “natural adjacent and complementary offering to a number of our core competencies”, particularly given that “clients are no longer seeking premium legal services from only a small handful of large firms”.

O’Malley added that he and Blue will leverage off the scale of PwC’s global network to build a legal services platform across Australasia.

“Local offerings will be tailored to meet the needs of PwC’s clients and take advantage of opportunities in the relevant market,” he said. “Our sights will initially be set on the Australian market and on supporting the development of complementary legal practices in key regional markets. We’ll work closely with the broader PwC network in achieving this ambition.”

O’Malley, who was head of KWM’s Australia practice before quitting the firm last year (24 May 2013), will lead the new venture across Australia and Asia Pacific, and will also fee earn as a competition and telecommunications regulatory lawyer. Blue, who headed KWM’s M&A and tax practice until he retired last year (21 June 2013), will head the firm’s corporate and commercial practice and will also deputise for O’Malley. 

Despite leaving KWM more than a year ago, O’Malley and Blue have been practising law since May, when they established boutique practice LCR Advisory (8 May 2014). As Australian regulations allow multi-disciplinary practices, LCR Advisory will be fully merged with PwC Australia in the coming weeks. Both O’Malley and Blue have joined PwC as partners.

Blue said: “When we set up LCR it was our intention to grow a top-quality, focused corporate advisory practice with between 20 and 25 partners in Australia, as part of a global network. Now we have a mandate to do that within PwC. We’re very excited by the opportunity that PwC has offered us.”

The Australian launch is part of a wider plan to transform PwC Legal into a top 20 global player within the next five years, with Asia and Africa seen as key regions for driving growth (18 March 2014). Like its rivals Ernst & Young and KPMG, PwC has been building up its UK legal services offering since the advent of ABS (9 June 2014), with Deloitte preparing to follow suit (9 June 2014).

While the Australian legal market has gone through a prolonged period of tough trading conditions (30 June 2014), there are some indications that confidence is now beginning to rise (1 August 2014).