Tony O’Malley, PwC Australia and Asia Pacific legal services leader, told Lawyers Weekly’s sister publication AccountantsDaily that the firm has clear global aspirations to establish itself as a top 20 international law firm.
The firm’s legal growth strategy, implemented over the past 18 months, is designed to build a high-quality legal team of more than 100 lawyers and with 20-25 partners, he said.
“We’ve probably been the most aggressive to date in the Australian market, which is a position we’re very happy to take,” Mr O'Malley said.
“The strategy was to focus on four areas that had strong natural adjacencies to the rest of the business: corporate advisory, regulatory, projects and infrastructure, and employment and immigration."
In an attempt to further boost its legal capability within Australia, the firm has appointed Damian McNair as PwC's head of projects. Mr McNair will operate from Melbourne with his three-strong team of lawyers.
Previously head projects partner at Gilbert + Tobin, Mr McNair “comes over with a very strong reputation in that space, both here in Australia but also in the region and more broadly, because he’s actually worked in Hong Kong and the Middle East”, said Mr O'Malley.
Clients and corporations are more willing to adopt legal services, with the “timing right” for a progression and expansion into the space, Mr O'Malley continued.
“We think that legal growth is a natural extension of the other lines of service,” he said.
“We think that the timing’s right for the 'big four' to do this, given that the legal market’s fragmented, and customers are very willing to try new things and innovate."
According to Mr O’Malley, the appointment of Mr McNair represents a shift in the way that 'big four' firms have approached an expansion into the legal sector.
“If I can be bold, maybe the last time the accounting firms or the 'big four' entered the market, they didn’t always go into the legal sector at the right level or the right point. If you set yourself a target of being a leading law firm or a leading international law firm, the sensible thing to do is hire a couple of people that have run one,” he said.
“Last time around, I think the strategy was more acquisitive, and because it was acquisitive and inorganic they just went and bought firms and held them at arm’s length and the firms that they could buy weren't necessarily the right firms."