05 Dec 2022

PwC adds lawyers from several firms to boost UK legal real estate offering

Suzanne Nethway joins from Osborne Clarke to head team along with four other lawyers as part of Big Four giant's push into legal

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PwC has added five lawyers from firms including Osborne Clarke and Dentons to grow its legal real estate offering in the UK, amid a growth push that saw it announce plans in January to double the size of its UK legal team over the next three to four years.

The new London-based team will be led by Suzanne Nethway, who has joined from Osborne Clarke as head of PwC’s UK real estate team. 

The rest of the team is made up of Jennifer Douglas and Imran Paswal, who have joined as senior managers from DAC Beachcroft and Howard Kennedy respectively, while Fionnuala Reihill and Celine Truong have moved over as managers from Dentons and Australian real estate firm Makinson d’Apice.

“The new team has a wealth of skills and experience that will add tremendous value to our practice, furthering our offering in the real estate space," said Teresa Owusu-Adjei, PwC’s UK head of legal business solutions. “The appointments underscore our commitment to growth and investing in top talent is critical to this ambition.”

Nethway brings more than 18 years’ experience in commercial real estate to PwC, most recently as a senior associate at Osborne Clarke. She advises clients across a full spectrum of real estate offerings, including freehold and leasehold asset sales and purchases with complex finance structuring, asset management and finance work and distressed asset sales. 

Her arrival follows the departure in May of former head of real estate head Amit Unadkat, who joined CMS in London as a partner.

Meantime Douglas has made the move after almost eight years at DAC Beachcroft and brings experience in asset management, investment sales and M&A as well as expertise in planning law, while Imran specialises in secured lending in relation to mixed use developments, commercial investment properties, healthcare and renewable energy transactions. 

Rounding out the team is Reihill, who has made the move after two years at Dentons and brings general commercial real estate experience, and Truong, whose practice focuses on leasing and investment commercial real estate. 

Nethway pointed to the “immense” benefit that PwC’s multi-disciplinary offering, which combines tax, NewLaw and regulatory services with legal expertise, would bring to clients.

“I am delighted to be working with the team to grow our legal real estate offering,” she added.

The real estate legal team is part of PwC’s wider UK real estate network, which houses more than 500 professionals. It will offer services including acquisitions, disposals and lettings, legal due diligence for asset, share and loan transactions, development and regulatory advice. 

The hires follow PwC announcing in January that it intended to double the size of its then 400-strong UK legal practice within the next four years. 

Law.com reported at the time that the ‘huge investment’ would involve the firm focusing on its legal business solutions arm, which offers advice in disputes, environmental matters, financial services, pensions and now real estate. 

It comes amid a wider push by the Big Four into legal work that also saw Deloitte Legal's UK team double its headcount with the acquisition of London tech and IP firm Kemp Little back in 2020 and KPMG and EY announce plans earlier this year to respectively double and triple their own UK legal services headcount.  

A report published last year by Lexis Nexis indicated just how much the Big Four's legal arms had grown in the previous few years, with their global reach and tech integration potentially leaving some law firms outgunned. 

Although a PwC spokesperson declined to comment on the revenue of its UK legal arm, the report cited research by LexisNexis that indicated it had doubled turnover in the previous five years to £100m. KPMG, meanwhile, had almost quadrupled it, from £12m to £45m.

These numbers may pale in comparison to big commercial law firms, but the data is only for the UK and the Big Four’s legal arms extend worldwide. Estimating their revenues is also tricky given that some of the services they offer, like legal ops consulting, might not strictly be viewed as ‘legal work’.  

The report also highlighted that the Big Four have shifted their approach to the legal industry. Rather than trying to look as much like traditional law firms as possible, only bigger, they’re combining process efficiencies and tech to provide everyday legal services at scale.   

They aren’t interested in ‘one-off, bet-the-company’ work, they want the 'run-the-company' work, Harvard Law School’s David Wilkins said in the report. The report cited Bayer’s $66bn acquisition of Monsanto in 2016, which saw the parties advised by top-tier law firms including Allen & Overy and Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz but the post-merger work given to PwC.

The higher integration of technology, project management and process management coupled with huge numbers of employees across a range of specialties could make for an attractive offering, Wilkins said, adding that it could mean the Big Four’s push into legal services could gain more traction this time around.

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