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Aussie legal market full of opportunities in 2023, ‘despite growing economic uncertainty’

Following a number of global expansions, Ashurst’s head of Australia Lea Constantine spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the year ahead and her plans for the firm moving forward.

user iconLauren Croft 11 January 2023 Big Law
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In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Ms Constantine said the firm’s priorities remain on servicing clients across the banks and funds, energy and resources, infrastructure, real estate, and the digital economy sectors.

This comes after the firm expanded its risk advisory to the UK in October last year, before Ashurst established a joint venture with Korean law firm HwaHyun in November, in a move to expand its presence in Asia.  

“2022 has been a strong year for Ashurst. We announced record revenue globally in the year to 30 April 2022, building on six years of continuous growth in revenue and profit per equity partner. Australia played a significant part in this strong performance. In Australia, we have seen considerable investment by clients in sustainability and the energy transition this year,” Ms Constantine explained.


“Digitisation and new digital assets have created new demand for legal services, as has the disruption to supply chains. There has also been a sharp increase in demand for cyber security advice this year. In a sign of the extent of this client demand, our Ashurst Risk Advisory division — which provides holistic solutions to challenges in areas including cyber, climate and financial risks — has become one of the fastest-growing parts of the firm in less than three years of operation.

“More broadly, clients are increasingly seeking advice on a wide range of legal and risk issues that ultimately go to the protection of corporate reputations. ESG considerations are one important theme in the advice we provide across all practice areas. This demand is having a cross-practice impact on the legal industry and will continue to do so.”

In terms of if these themes will continue through 2023, Ms Constantine said that the firm is seeing significant opportunities in the market — and has evolved in a number of ways post-pandemic.

“Despite growing economic uncertainty, we see significant opportunities across the five priority sectors we service — banks and funds, energy and resources, infrastructure, real estate and the digital economy. We are continuing to invest in high-quality, efficient and innovative delivery of solutions for clients,” she said.

“Although the digital transformation has been happening for a number of years now, it has been enhanced by the changes in working patterns sparked by the pandemic. This is the case for the legal sector and many others. There are efficiencies and improvements that come with continuous improvement to technology, and we anticipate this will become an even more pressing need in a tougher economic climate.”

This “period of economic uncertainty” is likely to continue to have an impact on Ashurst’s business and clients, both in positive and negative ways.

“Some practice areas may experience softer demand or changes in focus, but other areas are likely to see increased activity. We have already seen increased workloads in our disputes, restructuring and regulatory teams, and we expect this to continue if the economic outlook deteriorates,” Ms Constantine added.

“Other parts of our business are likely to grow even in a recession, such as practices focused on the energy transition and infrastructure. We are also seeing increased demand for legal and risk advice on ESG reporting, digital technology and cyber threats.”

In terms of broader issues for the legal profession in Australia, Ms Constantine expressed the importance of increasing the number of women in leadership roles, as well as for BigLaw firms to embrace innovation.

We have committed to ambitious gender targets to be achieved by 2026, including 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men, and 20 per cent flexible (women, men or non-binary) representation at the partnership and senior leader level. In Australia, we have met our gender targets ahead of time, with 40 per cent women partners in 2022. However, we still have more to do with 31 per cent women partners globally,” she added.

“[Another] ongoing challenge for law firms is to continue to provide more for less for clients through high-quality tech-enabled, efficient and innovative solutions. This has been the case for some years, but will likely take on new significance in a tougher economic climate. Clients rightly expect that we will quickly adapt to meet this challenge.

“Traditional law firms can no longer rely on providing legal advice in its purest sense. There is a pressing need to focus on delivering holistic solutions, ideally by one firm with a deep understanding of a client’s strategy, business and operating models.”

However, the Australian legal industry would also benefit from reforms to encourage “mobility of lawyers between jurisdictions”, according to Ms Constantine, who added that the war for talent would also continue into 2023.

Competition for the best lawyers has been intense in 2022, and we expect this to continue. In the past two years, the tight domestic labour market was compounded by strong international demand for Australian lawyers, which only increased as borders reopened,” she said.

“Law firms need to go further than just providing competitive remuneration and favourable workplace environments — they also need to provide access to significant client work and career opportunities. People are key to our firm’s 200 years of success, and we have invested heavily in ensuring that Ashurst remains a great place to work for the best lawyers. Ashurst’s global platform and top-tier presence in Australia gives us an advantage, but this remains a challenge for all firms.”

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