Ian Wallace will take on the role of chairman on 1 January 2013. He joined the firm in 1982 and was there when Feez Ruthning merged into Allen Allen & Hemsley in 1996, and when Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks merged with Allen Allen & Hemsley to become Allens Arthur Robinson.
“The alliance with Linklaters is probably only bigger in geographic terms than our merger with Arthur Robinson and with Feez Ruthning … [those] were very big at the time,” he said.
Wallace will succeed Ewen Crouch, who will step down when his current term expires at the end of the year.
Wallace is no stranger to management roles within Allens; he has been a partner at the firm since 1989 and has previously served as a member of the Board and as deputy managing partner.
A key responsibility of his new role, he said, will be to strengthen the relationship with Linklaters, which was formed just over six months ago.
The alliance has been described in some quarters as the least integrated of all the Australian law firm mergers of recent times and the least effective in creating value for the firms, but Wallace begs to differ.
“For Allens and for our clients the alliance has already been hugely successful and productive. We have bid for major pieces of work jointly with Linklaters now on a large number of occasions and have won more than our fair share of those assignments,” he said, adding that clients love the access to global capabilities as well as the fact that Allens is still an independent firm and can make decisions locally “without having to refer every decision to somewhere offshore”.
Wallace also said the alliance has meant Allens now works more closely and more actively with clients in the Asian region.
The closing up of Allens’ Beijing and Shanghai offices is expected to be complete by the end of this year as the firm’s lawyers co-locate with Linklaters lawyers in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Since the alliance was announced in April, a number of Allens’ Asia partners have resigned from the firm, including Hong Kong dispute resolution head Simon McConnell and dispute partner Mun Yeow, who will both join Clyde & Co.
Despite the structural link-ups, Wallace was adamant that the alliance is not a trial run for a full merger down the track.
Keep up the practice
Wallace said he expects his new role as chairman to take up around a quarter to a third of his time but he still intends to practise, effectively full time.
“The managing partner has full responsibility for the day-to-day management of the firm; the chairman role is quite different. It has couple of key aspects: internally, in chairing partner meetings and chairing and running the operation of our board, and externally there’s an important representation role,” explained Wallace.
Wallace has expertise in the banking and finance sector, with a focus on structured finance transactions. He also has an active restructuring and insolvency practice, including recently leading the team that advised the lender group in relation to the Babcock and Brown Power/Alinta Energy debt restructure.
Wallace said that, while work was flowing in his corporate practice, he was “honoured” to be named as the next chairman and was looking forward to assisting partners and staff in their client engagement.