The boom in resources work saw two substantial new entrants in the market in 2008, with east coast firms Johnson Winter & Slattery (JWS) and Middletons both opening Perth offices.
JWS partner and former Freehills partner Michael Dulaney has worked in the Perth market for 30 years, describing himself and fellow Perth partner Peter Smith as "old heads running a new firm". Dulaney maintains that JWS will be less affected than the larger firms because of its size and organisational structure.
"We have a low leverage model, a partner and a senior lawyer that handle all the work - so we don't have the pyramid of people that the big firms have. Therefore we don't have to find as much work to keep us busy."
Middletons completed a merger with Perth-based firms Franklyn Legal and Salter Power in December 2008. Middletons' top man remains confident about growth prospects in the Western Australian market, despite doom and gloom predictions for the WA economy in a report released by Access Economics.
"Perth has been in a boom economy or a boom environment for a number of years, and, clearly, there were signs there for a lot of last year that [that position] was going to be impacted by the world wide economic crisis," Middletons managing partner Nick Nicholas said.
"But our assessment of the market there was that there would still be some growth, albeit much less growth than there had been in the previous 12 to 24 months," he said.
"I was always of the view that we were in for at least 12 to 18 months, if not two years, of difficult trading conditions, so I think that report merely highlights that that is going to be the case. It's likely to be closer to a two-year time frame."
Another new player to watch is Napier Legal, a by-product of the Middletons-Salter Power merger, established by exiting managing partner Stephen Powers. It will be interesting to see how the mining focussed boutique find its feet given the challenging market conditions.
- Laura MacIntyre
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