PwC Legal chief: we can be a top 20 global legal services business in five years

The head of PricewaterhouseCooper’s legal arm (PwC Legal) has set out the firm’s ambitions to become a global top-20 legal services player within the next five years.

PwC Legal global legal services leader Leon Flavell told The Lawyer that the firm was targeting revenues of $1bn – doubling from 2013’s almost-$500m across the firm’s legal offering – with particular growth earmarked for Asia and Africa.

“There’s a strong appetite among PricewaterhouseCoopers’ global network for significant investment in legal services,” said Flavell. “Our ambition is to become a leading global legal services business in terms of quality and quantity and both in each of the local markets and globally.”

The firm has already begun its expansion, recently gaining an ABS licence in the UK in order for the accountancy firm parent to take ownership of the business (31 January 2014). In Canada, it has acquired Toronto-based immigration law firm Bomza Law Group (3 March 2014).

While PwC wants to grow its legal services business across the globe, Flavell highlighted Asia and Africa as key places to develop a stronger legal capacity.

“From a personal perspective, we’re keen on opportunity in Asia and Africa. This is largely to do with businesses coming out from countries such as China and Japan requiring legal services support in Europe as well as global companies looking to have help from us on the ground in many emerging markets, such as China and Indonesia,” said Flavell. 

“However, we have no concrete or imminent plans at the moment on how we should be investing in the territories,” he added. “The last thing I would do is to rush at acquiring or building anything for the sake of it.

“My expectation is that we will achieve our ambition around the next three to five year timeframe,” he said.

The aspiration comes eight months after Flavell took on the global legal services leader role on a full-time basis to coordinate the firm’s global legal services operations.

He has been at the helm of PwC Legal LLP in the UK since 2002 when it was still known as Landwell (16 December 2002) and has led the firm’s transformation from a £10m boutique to today’s £35m outfit. This would put the firm in the 74th position in last year’s UK 200 ranking, just after Dickson Minto.

PwC’s legal services capacity has been growing most strongly in the UK and Europe over the past five years. The top three fee-earning jurisdictions for PwC’s legal services are Spain, where it operates as PwC Tax & Legal Services, Germany, as PwC Legal AG, and the UK.

“We have not only managed to grow our revenues significantly, but also have changed the market and client perception of the firm in these jurisdictions,” said Flavell. “I would like to see this achivement replicated around the world.”

He emphasised that PwC Legal does not compete in the space of the magic circle firms and the top Wall Street firms, with its five main practice areas for globally immigration law, enterprise governance and compliance, employment and labour law, international business re-organisation and mid-tier M&A work.

Tax litigation is also an increasingly strong business in some jurisdictions, such as the UK and Australia. In jurisdictions where the big banks are not the firm’s audit clients, such as the Netherlands, PwC Legal also takes on traditional banking and finance work.

PwC currently has legal services offerings in 83 different countries with around 2,400 lawyers. However, the range of services available in each jurisdiction varies greatly and is delivered via different vehicles, such as a stand-along locally registered law firm or the tax and business advisory arms at a local member of PwC. 

Apart from PwC, fellow Big Four accountant Ernst & Young has also been expanding its global legal network. Last month, it added Shanghai-based firm Chen & Co as the China member of EY Law, a global alliance of local firms (20 February 2014).