PwC’s legal arm underwent a huge shift when it integrated into the Big Four accounting firm last year, according to Ed Stacey, who this month assumed the role as PwC’s head of legal.
The legal arm previously was strictly segregated for regulatory reasons. And that segregation was not just theoretical.
“We were a ring-fenced separate partnership, and while we sat mostly in this building [in central London] we actually had glass barriers around us, literally glass barriers, and you had to swipe to come in and out of the doors,” Stacey said.
All this changed last October when the firm converted into a multidisciplinary practice (MDP) that dispersed PwC Legal’s more than 350 lawyers into the wider PwC network.
“When we got to October, the Berlin Wall came down,” joked Stacey, who took over from long-serving PwC legal head Shirley Brookes.
The restructuring has had a significant effect on the way the firm’s lawyers are organized and work on a day-to-day basis.
While PwC Legal was organized as a single business unit, its lawyers have now been split across the PwC business units that best reflect their area of practice. For example, employment lawyers now sit within PwC’s people and organizations group, which consists of HR consultants and reward consultants, while the pensions team is now sitting alongside PwC’s wider pensions group.
“It has made it a lot easier to work on joint projects if you are seated with people doing the work and, as a result, we have started to see some really impressive growth in some of our teams that have managed to embed quickly,” Stacey said.
“We have got a corporate restructuring business, which now works alongside the tax specialists looking at company reorganizations. They are able to do the legal work alongside that and they have seen pretty phenomenal growth over the last year as a result of that integration,” he said.
PwC Legal may not be a cost center anymore, but it is Stacey’s legal network that is responsible for developing new product lines, including areas such as its new managed legal services (MLS) offering and flexible lawyering business.
Once the product has been developed, it is then offered to clients by the firm’s legal function effectiveness team, with consultants recommending, for example, MLS to clients in order to improve the efficiency of their legal teams.
“In some cases, we may take on parts of their legal function; it is TUPE transferred across to us,” Stacey said, referring to U.K. regulations designed to protect employees when a business changes ownership.
On other occasions, the legal team may provide technology services to clients when the in-house team isn’t large enough to invest in its own platforms.
PwC recruited partners Andrew Giverin and Jason McQuillen in April from new law outfit Radiant Law, to help drive its business in this area.
“We see this as one of our highest growth areas for the next two-year period,” Stacey said.
The head of legal also said the firm’s Flexible Legal Resources offering, which aims to provide contract lawyers to in-house departments, focuses on providing large groups of lawyers to clients for specific projects.
“This is much more around offering a bulk team of lawyers who may be able to come in and deal with a particular project under a client’s supervision, such as the remediation projects that have been such a feature in the financial services sector,” Stacey explained.
PwC has also been making increasing use of its regional offices, particularly Belfast, to keep costs down for legal clients.
Stacey cites this office as one of the reasons PwC won a role on the U.K. government’s £400 million legal panel as part of a consortium that also includes Howes Percival, Holman Fenwick Willan and Sharpe Pritchard.
The firm now has 30 legal staff in Belfast and is still recruiting, both for staff for its MLS practice and for lawyers to support its wider business.
As the office in Belfast grows, Stacey anticipates a hiring slowdown in London. But he insists that there are no plans for London job cuts.
“It may be that we won’t recruit as fast in London as we have in the past few years and we will recruit more in places like Belfast, Leeds and Manchester,” Stacey said.
The legal arm has also expanded internationally this year, launching an office in Washington, D.C., which will not offer U.S. law advice but will instead focus on marketing the wider firm to U.S. clients.
“Many U.S. companies don’t know PwC does law, even though we have now got just over 3,200 lawyers worldwide,” he said.
He describes the launch as “a small logistical step but a big step from an optical perspective”.
Stacey said that his goals in his new job are centered around the firm’s people and its clients.
“I need to ensure that we continue to grow and that we continue to deliver a really positive experience for our people and our clients,” he said.
Even in his first week in the role, Stacey said he was surprised by the number of approaches he has had from people in the market looking for an opportunity at the firm.
“The number of people contacting me directly around opportunities has surprised me,” he said. “Other lawyers, and particularly junior lawyers, know that we do things a bit differently here and see that as an opportunity.”
Junior lawyers are rarely given annual billable hour targets exceeding 1,000 hours, he said.
“We expect our people to become more involved in the business of their clients and spend more time with their clients, not necessarily just seated in an office throwing down chargeable hours,” he said.