If the merger of Deacons and Norton Rose is an early indication of what the Australian legal landscape might look like in the next five to ten years, then Australian lawyers may need to get reacquainted with globetrotting
When Don Boyd, managing partner of Deacons, told his staff the firm would merge with international law firm Norton Rose, he said he was met with plenty of eager faces.
"There was a great deal of euphoria around the firm," he told Lawyers Weekly, when the deal was announced last month. "It means a lot if you are a young lawyer. There is now enormous potential for secondment to other offices now."
That potential could open avenues for Australian lawyers to seek more opportunities in the 29 worldwide offices of Norton Rose- including London, Dubai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Tokyo.
Deacons is not alone in having considered the prospects of a merger with a global law firm. Clifford Chance and Mallesons have discussed the prospects of a merger, while other firms are expected to make more solid considerations of such moves in the future.
Edward Andrew, managing director of EA International, predicts that these expectations will be met within the next decade, as Australian law firms look to gain from relationships with global law firms.
"The biggest question mark over the entire international recruitment game for Australia is if, in 5 to 10 years' time, or whatever it takes, the UK and US firms have joined forces with the leading Australian firms. Then that changes the dynamic," says Andrew.
"If Norton Rose and Deacons can put it together and they can move to full-mode integration then, obviously, there has got to be scope for other firms."
For Australian law firms that have traditionally suffered the drain of their talent to opportunities in larger cities such as London or New York, such global amalgamations could actually mean that Australian lawyers - if given the necessary opportunities to gain international experience - might stay with their employers on a longer basis.
"It may change the way we do business, but it means the Australian lawyers will be part of international global law firms and will be pretty happy to work around the world within their law firm," Andrew says.
But Jonathan Marsden, director of the London office of Marsden International, predicts such mergers would have only a minor impact.
"The question is 'Will the lawyers from Deacons come off the international recruitment market because they have options to go to Norton Rose?' We've seen that with international mergers that hasn't had much of an impact," he says.
"We'll still get approached by Deacons lawyers wanting to go to Slaughter and May or Clifford Chance and not go to Norton Rose. Or we'll still get Norton Rose lawyers wanting to go to Mallesons or Allens. So there will definitely be more internal transfers, but a lot of the Australian firms have been doing informal transfers for years between them and their 'best friends'."
The grass may always appear greener elsewhere, but, if managed accordingly, there's reason to believe that the presence of truly global law firms in Australia could make it all the more enticing for lawyers to stay with one firm for the long haul.
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