The world's biggest accountancy group, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), is understood to be planning to buy a medium-sized City law firm this year as part of its plans to be a top five international law firm.
Gerard Nicolay, global leader of PwC's legal network, says he wants the group's London practice to have 400 to 500 lawyers within two years. PwC's London firm, Arnheim Tite & Lewis, currently employs 100 lawyers.
However, Arnheim Tite & Lewis managing partner Christopher Tite says that PwC is not interested in buying a provincial UK network and says claims that PwC is about to enter talks with possible partners in London and New York are inaccurate.
PwC revealed its expansion plans as it announced its merger with two Spanish firms, Estudio Legal and Mullerat & Roca, a wedding that will form the second-biggest firm in Spain.
Ian Terry, managing partner of Freshfields, believes PwC will seek to buy a UK firm that ranks between 10 and 20, or may even target those between five and 20.
He adds: "We would be foolish to be complacent about the threat they represent."
The collapse of merger talks between Arthur Andersen and Wilde Sapte last year cast doubt on the ability of the big five accountants to expand to compete with the leading law firms.
But PwC believes it will triumph because it recognises the differences between accountants and the less hierarchical culture of lawyers.
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu announced in December that it is expanding its legal network over the next two years and intends to acquire a London firm during 2000.