HEBERT Smith is the latest firm to set its sights on Australia, with a plan to follow UK firms Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Norton Rose over here.
The firm has not confirmed reports and rumours on the move, but anonymous legal industry sources told The New Lawyer that the firm is interested in a move and possible alliance with Australian firm Blake Dawson.
Norton Rose, Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance have each merged with smaller Australian law firms, seeing the mergers in part as opening doors into Asia.
The rumour mill is now questioning not whether Herbert Smith will come to Australia, but which firm it will merge with. Freehills and Blake Dawson currently top the list as most likely. It's widely argued, however, that a smaller fins is much more workable and likely.
A merger between Clifford Chance and Mallesons Stephen Jaques didn't happen in 2008 and the firm opted intend for boutique firms in Sydney and Perth. The firm had pulled the plug on merger talks with Mallesons, with market conditions and expectations that some Australian partners would have to relocate or be demoted rendering the whole thing unworkable.
UK legal publication The Lawyer reports it is unclear whether Herbert Smith is keen to identify a merger partner or whether, like A&O and Clifford Chance, it is planning to cherrypick teams to launch its own base.
The enlivened interest in Australia by Uk firms has led to unease among partners in Australian law firms that are already feeling the pinch.