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The making of a national firm: Freehills

Freehills is a firm that is in tune with its past. In April this year, it launched Freehills: A history of Australia's First National Law Firm, which chronicles the history of the firm from its origins in 1838 until 2000, when Freehills Hollingdale & Page became Freehills under a single nationwide partnership.

There is arguably no bigger figure in the Freehills history than Brian Page. Born in Sydney in 1912, Page joined the Hollingdale brothers in 1936, becoming a partner in 1938. In 1947, the firm became Freehill, Hollingdale & Page, with Page retiring from the firm in 1988 after 50 years as a partner. He died in 2008, aged 96.

"I think the founding fathers of the firm would be very happy with where we are now," says Freehills chief executive Gavin Bell. "Obviously the market is very different from when Brian Page started, but we are exactly in the position they [the founding fathers] aspired to."

Where Freehills is at now is as one of Australia's largest and most prominent law firms. As of April, it had 1883 total staff, if which 923 are lawyers and195 partners.

During Brian Page's tenure, it had an "open" employment policy, hiring Catholics and Jews when many other firms would not.

People the caliber of David Gonski, now the chair of the Australian Securities Exchange, but formerly a lawyer at Freehills and becoming one of the firm's youngest ever partners at 25, were beneficiaries of such policies. With gender and cultural diversity the two most pressing diversity issues now, Bell says that Freehills is committed to trying to increase its number of female partners, which is roughly 22 per cent.

"I think we lead the profession," Bell says when talking about his firm's diversity policies. "In gender diversity we have a record that is second to none and we have the 'Women at Freehills Steering Committee which has been recognised within the industry."

Total staff: 195 partners, 923 lawyers plus support staff

Locations: Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Singapore

Click on the covers to explore the story of how each of these now national firms expanded across the continent:

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