PwC picks up dual ABS licence for legal and Middle East arms

by Legal Week

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03 Feb 2014

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THE LEGAL ARM of PwC has been awarded dual alternative business structure (ABS) licences by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA), potentially bringing PwC Legal's 2,000 lawyer network under the control of the auditing firm.

The SRA confirmed it had granted PwC Legal a licence, allowing the auditor to directly own the limited liability partnership (LLP), Accountancy Age's sister title Legal Week reported.

PwC Legal, which currently sits separate to the rest of PwC, provides a range of legal services including immigration, corporate, finance and regulation. An SRA spokesperson said PwC's Middle East business had also been granted a separate ABS licence.

PwC confirmed it would now provide further investment to its legal arm, following the ABS award.

"The authorisation of PwC Legal as an ABS is another example of the innovative changes taking place in the legal market," commented SRA executive director of policy Crispin Passmore. "Nearly two years on from the first ABS licensed by the SRA, we are seeing further increased diversity in the supply of legal services, and that provides consumers with greater choice.

PwC is not the only member of the Big Four to show an interest in directly managing a legal arm. Last year, Legal Week reported KPMG was weighing up an ABS conversion and looking to hire corporate lawyers in the Manchester market.

The news follows confirmation that Direct Line Insurance Group is to launch a legal services arm in March, after the company was also awarded its ABS licence this week.

The FTSE 100 insurer is partnering with Parabis Law to offer its customers various legal services, including personal injury and non-injury claims, debt recovery, employment and contract work.

Direct Line - which first applied for the ABS in June - said it expects to launch the new business, DLG Legal Services, on 3 March.

The "newly formed and wholly owned law firm" will subcontract staff from Parabis, with which Direct Line has a longstanding relationship, to work alongside members of Direct Line's in-house legal team.

Customers of Direct Line's insurance brands, such as Churchill and Privilege, currently have access to the group's in-house legal team and a panel of law firms.

Motor or family protection policy holders who choose to be represented by the new entity would receive 100% of any damages awarded, though the company will receive a standalone fee. Policy customers can still choose to appoint their own solicitor.

Last June, Direct Line said it does not expect DLG Legal Services to make a material contribution to the company's profits.

Separately, three of the top 50 UK firms by revenue have now obtained ABS licences, after Gateley and Weightmans were given SRA approval in December.

Irwin Mitchell was the first major law firm to have been awarded ABS status, when the UK top 20 firm secured a multiple licence in August 2012.

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