find the latest legal job
Corporate/Commercial Lawyers (2-5 years PAE)
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Specialist commercial law firm · Long-term career progression
View details
Graduate Lawyer / Up to 1.5 yr PAE Lawyer
Category: Personal Injury Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Mentoring Opportunity in Regional QLD · Personal Injury Law
View details
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Full time · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Sydney NSW
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
In-house Legal Counsel & Commercial Lawyers
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· Providing lawyers with flexibility and control over when they work, how they work and who they work for.
View details
Freehills: We are not second best

Freehills: We are not second best

Freehills have insisted that, despite being second billing behind Herbert Smith in the name of their newly-merged firm, it is not merely providing an outpost for another global firm to enter Australia.

Overnight (28 June), Freehills announced that it would merge with the UK-based global law firm Herbert Smith. The new firm will be known as Herbert Smith Freehills and will comprise 2800 lawyers spread across 20 offices worldwide, making it the world’s eighth-largest law firm by headcount.

The merged firm will be a full equity merger, with a single profit pool.

The merger will commence from 1 October.

Herbert Smith has more lawyers, more offices and a greater revenue stream than Freehills. However, the blue-ribbon Australian firm told Lawyers Weekly that this merger does not mean it will be subservient to the whims of its larger partner.

“We don’t see this as a UK firm arriving in Australia; we see this as us entering into a merger with an international firm and our clients have responded very positively to that,” said Mark Crean, the chairman of the Freehills board. “This is not a British flag being planted on the map in Australia by any stretch of the imagination.”

Freehills’ managing partner and CEO Gavin Bell (pictured) said the fact that Freehills’ name was second on the masthead of the merged firm was not an indication of which firm was the dominant partner.

Bell also dismissed any notion that there was disquiet from within Freehills about the merger or about who is perceived to be the dominant merger partner.

Bell said that an “overwhelming majority” of the firm’s 196 partners voted for the merger, with not one single partner voting no. However, it is believed some partners abstained from voting.

“This is a merger of equals,” said Bell.

Herbert Smith, which targets energy and resources work overseas, was particularly attracted to the capabilities of Freehills in this key battleground in the Australian and global legal market. Freehills has the largest legal office of any law firm in Perth and its Brisbane office is the fastest-growing office of its four national offices.

The same, but different
Freehills is the fourth top-tier firm to announce a merger or formal link with a foreign firm over the past 12 months. There is a growing sense within the legal community that selling such a merger model in the future will be harder, as the point of differentiation from other firms will be diluted.

“I think it is good for clients to have all these global law firms entering the Australian market,” said Stuart Fuller, the Hong Kong-based global managing partner of King & Wood Mallesons, who sent Gavin Bell an email this morning that “welcomed him to integration”.

“However, such a message becomes harder to sell when you do have global firms already in the Australian market… but I do think clients increasingly want to use large global law firms.”

One area where the Freehills merger with Herbert Smith is different from other recent mergers is that it will be a full equity merger, with a single partner profit pool.

This is a marked difference to Allens and Linklaters, which has struck up an alliance, Ashurst and Blake Dawson, which aims to have full financial integration by 2014, and the model adopted by King & Wood Mallesons, which has a Swiss Verein structure.

Fuller said that too much emphasis was placed on Freehills’ structure and not enough emphasis on its offering and capabilities. He described the merged firm’s China practice, which is much smaller than King & Wood Mallesons, as being “where Mallesons was five years ago”.

Earlier this week, a report released by Beaton Capital said that, for the 2010 calendar year, Herbert Smith pulled in $US719 million in revenue, with Freehills pulling in $US439 million for the same period.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Freehills: We are not second best
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Scales of Justice
Dec 15 2017
Timing ‘critical’ in unusual contempt of court ruling
A recent case could have interesting implications for contempt of court rulings, according to a Ferr...
Dec 14 2017
International arbitration and business culture
Promoted by Maxwell Chambers. This article discusses the impact of international arbitration on t...
Papua New Guinea flag
Dec 14 2017
World-first mining case launched in PNG
Citizens of Papua New Guinea have launched landmark legal proceedings against the country’s govern...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...