FORESIGHT MAY not be lacking among Australia’s top-tier law firms, but putting that knowledge to work to the benefit of their clients is not so evident, according to the legal counsel for the Packer family’s private company.
Group general counsel at Consolidated Press Holdings, Craig Carracher, said major private equity houses taking large stakes in iconic companies — including his employers’ main media vehicle, Publishing and Broadcasting Limited — provide one example.
He said law firms were well placed to read the “financial services landscape” and predict that private equity would be involved in a major way in the M&A market and marshal the necessary talent.
“It’s only been in the last 12 to 15 months that there has been a great deal of talk about private equity amongst the law firms,” he said. “But I’ll challenge any of them to actually articulate what this means for the industry and what this means for the law firms.
“If you’re running a business as a business, you have to be able to predict where the talent’s going to be required and if they did predict this, we’re not seeing that in the allocation of their talent.”
Damien Hazard, a private equity specialist at Freehills, who is working on some of the major ongoing investments by big offshore private equity funds in Australian companies, including Kohlberg Kravis Roberts’ (KKR’s) joint venture with the Seven Network, said Carracher’s view is “probably true”.
However, he said Freehills was one firm that had a well organised, central team of lawyers with broad private equity experience.
“We’ve been acting for private equity since its birth in Australia. We’ve got a dedicated private equity team in both Sydney and Melbourne … the senior members of which have been working with the industry for 15 years.”
Other large law firms contacted by Lawyers Weekly said they were well prepared to advise the private equity firms now investing in the Australian market.
Overall, Carracher believes law firms, especially the larger ones, should make it their business to try to predict the regulatory changes ahead and assist their clients to determine what impact that will have on their long-term investment decisions.
“How do we predict the regulatory shifts that might encourage us to invest in one sector over another or encourage us to raise money from one jurisdiction over another?”, he asks.
He believes the moves by private equity on “iconic” brands such as Qantas, for instance, “are likely to change the regulatory landscape”.
“I think the law firms that are best able to comment on that [will do well],” he said.
“Not just comment on it, but to meaningfully talk to the hedge funds, meaningfully talk to the private equity houses and meaningfully talk to industries and say part of the fallout of what we’re experiencing ... is going to be an increased regulatory landscape, and this is what we think that could mean for your industry and this is what we think that could mean for your company.”