In a further sign that Charlotte is becoming a significant financial center, the Wall Street law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft plans to open a major new office in the North Carolina city.

"We believe it is important to the future of our firm to have a substantial presence here," said James P. Carroll, the Cadwalader partner who will head the office, due to open in April.

Charlotte is gaining the reputation as the nation's third-most-important financial center, after New York and San Francisco.

The major regional banks based there - NationsBank Corp. and First Union Corp. - are making forays into investment banking, and require cutting-edge legal advice.

Cadwalader sees the Charlotte office as a platform for new business throughout the Southeast. In announcing the new office, the firm also pointed to the lower cost of doing business there, and the potential of attracting legal talent from the Southeast's leading law schools.

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