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Melbourne firms battle for lawyers

Melbourne firms battle for lawyers

Insurance firms in Melbourne have been left reeling after one firm continues to take senior people, including high-ranking partners, from competitor firms.

Moray & Agnew, the firm that scooped almost an entire insurance team from Herbert Geer & Rundle in Melbourne several years ago, has bolstered its practice with two Sparke Helmore insurance experts.

Partner Michael Martin left the firm this month, leaving the door swinging for colleague Nigel Kemp in a double hit for the Melbourne practice of Sparke.

Speaking to The New Lawyer about his appointment, Kemp said Moray is "kicking all the goals" with panel appointments. The Victorian Government and the Commonwealth Com Cover appointment appealed to Kemp, he said.

"Realitically, everything I was hearing when at Sparke about why Moray & Agnew were getting appointed, involved that in Melbourne there are not too many specialist defendant insurance firms. And certainly I'd put Moray's at the top of that," he said.

Kemp said he joined the "substantially larger" Moray, which had partners with many years' experience.

The insurance market in Melbourne has contracted in the past few years, making it "a good time to come across", said Kemp. "There are more opportunities here, it's a broader range of clients."

The move comes after Moray & Agnew plundered Herbert Geer & Rundle's Melbourne insurance practice in 2006.

At the time, five partners, eight lawyers and 12 support staff packed up their desks at the Melbourne office. Included in the exodus was the firm's managing partner, Bill Papastergiadis. Several of the lawyers had been at the firm for close to 20 years.

At the time, Papastergiadis said he was impressed with the developing trend towards specialist insurance firms. A growing dichotomy between insurance and commercial divisions within many firms meant the insurance part was unable to properly succeed.

Papastergiadis said specialisation meant the partners could properly cater to their clients' needs.

Moray competes in Melbourne with traditional firms like Lander and Rogers and Dibbs Abbott Stilman. Herbert Geer & Rundle, which has has traditional had a strong insurance presence in Melbourne, is no longer competition, said Kemp.

Sparke Helmore has boosted its insurance practice in Sydney this year, namely with Mark Doepel, who jumped from Minter Ellison to insurance firm Kennedys two years ago.

The firm's new managing partner Jesse Webb told The New Lawyer: “With other national law firms gradually exiting the insurance space, Sparke Helmore continues to grow this area of practice, attracting specialist partners and senior lawyers to firm. We act for all major Australian insurers, and maintain a strong presence in the London market. We currently have 172 lawyers including 31 partners focused on insurance work, a large part of the firm’s business - and that reflects our ongoing commitment to the insurance sector across the country." 

But in Melbourne, the practice is a shadow of its former self. Partner Kerri Thomas, who joined the firm as a senior associate from Corrs Chambers Westgarth, is now the sole partner in Victoria.

Webb said: "We recently appointed Kerri Thomas partner to the insurance practice in Melbourne. Her appointment is a net sum gain for us and for clients in the Melbourne market.”

Kemp said of the work he will be doing: "The work will predominantly be Victorian government work, public liability matters, workcover matters. I am hoping I will be able to develop the telecommunication practice. By that I primarily mean a recovery practice or acting for one for the providers I've acted for before in the defensive liability claims."

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