John Hutchinson, who is also the former general counsel at Centro Properties Group, moved across from DLA Piper to Hall & Wilcox on 15 February.
“My network, my contacts, my clients are all very much Australian focused and I came to realise that my focus was not exactly the same as DLA Piper’s,” Hutchinson said.
His DLA team moved with him, including partner Tony Macafee, a solicitor and a personal assistant.
A list of their clients also followed, including: Arena Investment Management (formerly Orchard Funds Management); Generation Healthcare REIT; Morgan Stanley Real Estate; ING Investment Management, Veolia Transport and Becton.
Hutchinson said DLA’s global focus wasn’t necessarily impacting on his practice but that it simply was not something that interested him.
“People [at DLA] are looking at all sorts of different things: they have a focus on sourcing cross-border transactions ... those global networks aren’t vital to my work,” he said.
“I came out of Centro five years ago and got back into private legal practice and started building a property funds practice pretty much from scratch again. I made a lot of progress with Tony and my team and that’s very much what we’re going to continue doing.”
Macafee was previously general counsel (funds management) at Becton Property Group.
Both he and Hutchinson have worked on numerous transactions in the corporate and funds sectors in Australasia and overseas, including: fund mergers, takeovers and spin-offs; the sale of management rights; fund capital raisings and restructurings, and the launch of wholesale and retail syndicates and joint ventures.
Hall & Wilcox managing partner Tony Macvean said the appointment of Hutchinson and Macafee supplements the existing strength of the Hall & Wilcox corporate and funds practice – acting for clients like APN Property Group; Australian Unity; Bendigo and Adelaide Bank; Bennelong Funds Management; BMW Finance; CGU; IOOF; Jemena and the Westpac Group, including Bank of Melbourne.
“Our senior lawyer appointments in recent years reflect our increasing ability to attract great legal talent and the appeal of our strategy and value proposition,” said Macvean.
Hutchinson said it had struck him over the last 10 years that Macvean and his team had built a strong niche practice and reputation in the property fund area
“It’s very compatible with what we do … it’s committed to the domestic market and we have mutual clients,” said Hutchinson.
Small is beautiful
Global firms have lost a number of senior partners to smaller firms in recent months.
Common reasons for departure include partners’ desire to focus on the domestic market, direct their own practice and have more direct and regular contact with their clients.
“I think it’s probably true that big firms have more of an institutional client base, where the client belongs to the firm not to the individual, so maybe the partner feels not as close to the client,” said Hutchinson, adding that working closely with clients, as part of their team to build their business, has always been what drives him.
“Maybe in a global firm it’s harder to get that sense of satisfaction.”
Hutchinson started his career with Baker & McKenzie in England. The firm presented him with many opportunities, he said, including coming to Australia, but he is not interested in being involved in the managing of a law firm as a business.
“I’m much more interested in working with clients,” he said.
“Hall & Wilcox [hasn’t] given up interest in referrals from offshore and, because of growing conflict problems that the global firms have, there’s probably greater opportunity for the independent firms to obtain referrals now, but that’s not my primary focus.”