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Mills Oakley has been acquiring boutiques. What’s next for the BigLaw firm?

Absorbing boutique firms under its BigLaw banner has resulted in “multifaceted” growth opportunities for multiple practice areas across the country for Mills Oakley, according to the firm’s chief executive.

user iconLauren Croft 25 October 2022 Big Law
Mills Oakley has been acquiring boutiques. What’s next for the BigLaw firm?
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Mills Oakley has recently acquired a number of boutique firms to enhance its litigation, corporate and insurance capabilities.

Sydney insurance firm Vardanega Roberts merged with Mills Oakley officially on 1 October, with partners Stephen Vardanega and Mike Roberts and their team joining the firm’s ranks — bringing with them a 30-year history acting for major Australian and global insurers.

Also on 1 October, Melbourne boutique Patrick & Associates joined the BigLaw firm. Principal Ben Patrick joined Mills Oakley as a partner, bringing his team of six lawyers and support staff. The specialist litigation firm advises on a broad range of commercial disputes, including regulatory investigations and building and construction, property, professional negligence and insurance matters. 


This news came after Mills Oakley joined forces with corporate boutique Clarendon Lawyers in October 2021, allowing the firm to bolster its corporate practice in Melbourne.

Following these acquisitions, Mills Oakley chief executive John Nerurker spoke to Lawyers Weekly about how these fit with the firm’s growth strategy — which he called “multifaceted”.

“It’s a combination of strategic acquisitions of small firms, teams and individual partner and senior lawyer lateral hires and strong organic growth. Fostering our own talent is a vital part of the strategy, and this year alone, we promoted seven people to partner from inside the firm, and another six partners were promoted to equity,” he explained.

“It’s a balanced growth strategy driven by our vision to provide the quality and range of expertise to meet the diverse needs of our broad client base. As the demand for the type of service and value provided by Mills Oakley grows, we need more of the right people, with the right skills and the right cultural fit. Otherwise, our growth is constrained.”

Whilst the BigLaw player hasn’t specifically focused on acquisitions, Clarendon Lawyers, Patrick & Associates, and Vardanega Roberts all provided unmissable opportunities for Mills Oakley.

“Acquiring boutique firms has not been a major part of our growth strategy, but in the last year, many opportunities arose, and of those, there were three firms that ticked all our boxes. What each had in common was their genesis lay in personal connections. Partners in Mills Oakley had known partners in these firms for many years. We were familiar with the quality of their work, operating style and professionalism. We had a deep understanding of who they were and their values,” Mr Nerurker explained.

“Even so, it was vital that everyone was comfortable with the idea of joining Mills Oakley from day one, not just the partners. We put a lot of thought and care into attending to individual situations so that any apprehensions were addressed. Helping the new ‘recruits’ ahead of joining us get to know who they’d be working with through a range of activities was an important way to ease any concerns and build enthusiasm for the opportunities ahead.”

As to why more boutique firms have been looking to merge with BigLaw firms, Mr Nerurker said the pandemic has caused a shift — and said that moving forward, Mills Oakley will continue to look for talented legal professionals.

“Throughout what I think of as the COVID years, there have been many small firm and sole practitioner opportunities put to us. A common thread I’ve noticed that’s causing them to rethink their future has been current market conditions, which have caused significant stress and fatigue. The administrative burden of running a small firm has [been] exacerbated during COVID, many principals have not been able to have a holiday in years, and the pressure to do more with less because of the ferocity of the war for talent means they are working harder and harder with no end in sight,” he noted.

“I think these factors have contributed to an increase in the number of boutique and sole practitioner firms who have decided to explore their options. What does the future hold for Mills Oakley? We plan for it to hold more of the same, finding and keeping talented people who are passionate about what they do. That will never change.”