AN occupational health and safety team has left the Melbourne office of Freehills and joined mid-tier firm Hall & Wilcox in a major coup for the smaller firm.
Penny Stevens, who headed the move, has joined as partner at Hall & Wilcox. It's likely she was lured by the promise of partnership, having been a senior associate at Freehills.
But upon departure she left the door swinging for a number of other Freehills OH&S lawyers, including special counsel Nicole Fauvrelle and lawyer Kim Grady.
It is understood that no other OH&S lawyers will be departing the Freehills team, despite the upheaval.
But while Freehills says the drop in numbers will have little impact on the OH&S team in that office, for Hall & Wilcox it's a sign on new beginnings in the practice area.
Freehills still has partner Barry Sherriff, who has acted for the like of the Victorian Congress of Employer Association.
Hall & Wilcox, meanwhile, says Stevens and the rest of the departing team are highly regarded in the OH&S space. Stevens herself said the team is thrilled to be moving across, and she highlighted the reputation of the firm, "its values and its vision for the future as the main motivators behind the decision to move".
“We share similar values around the importance of client relationships and a commitment to excellence. We are really looking forward to building a strong practice at Hall & Wilcox, allowing the team to flourish and grow," she said.
Hall & Wilcox was recently awarded the Best Law Firm (revenue under $50m) nationally, at the BRW Client Choice Awards 2009 as well as the Law Firm of the Year in 2009 by Australasian Legal Business magazine.
Health and safety lawyers are increasingly sought after as firms prepare for the Rudd government's plans to introduce national workplace health and safety laws.
A draft of the proposed laws are expected this month, but it is understood firms are readying themselves for an upswing in work in this area.
Freehills partner and practice group head for employee relations, Graeme Smith said: “Although regrettable, the departing solicitors are below partner level and Freehills has a deep national bench of talent in this area.
“We have a number of partners, together with senior solicitors who have already picked up the business of the departing solicitors’ existing clients.
“The impact of these departures will be minimal and we do not expect to lose any significant clients," he said.
The laws have been modelled on the Queensland and Victorian systems, and it is understood NSW clients could face major changes to their health and safety regime.