find the latest legal job
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Adelaide CBD · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
Freelance Project Finance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Australia
· Vario are looking for freelance lawyers with experience in project finance ideally within the renewable energy sector
View details
Vario Freelance Lawyers
Category: Construction Law | Location: All Australia
· We are looking for lawyers who appreciate the endless possibilities that a freelance career can offer.
View details
Freelance Construction Lawyers
Category: Construction Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· We are looking for construction lawyers who appreciate the endless possibilities that a freelance career can offer.
View details
Banking Associate - 1-6PQE - Allen & Overy
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: United Kingdom
· Banking Associate - 1-6 PQE - Allen & Overy
View details
If we build it, will the clients come?

If we build it, will the clients come?

The global head of K&L Gates has flagged more local and international growth for his firm, stating that when lawyers at his firm wake up in the morning, the “first word out of our mouth is build”.

Peter Kalis (pictured left), the chairman and global managing partner of the American-based global law firm, was in Australia last week. Speaking to Lawyers Weekly with the Australian managing partner, Nick Nichola (pictured right), just three months after the merger with Middletons, he said that he planned to grow both the headcount and revenue of the firm in Australia.

“We are a growth orientated law firm, we wake up in the morning and the first word out of our mouth is build,” he said, confirming that K&L Gates will seek to buttress organic growth with lateral appointments. “If you are not a builder you need not apply at this law firm.

“We are culturally of the view that if you stand still in the legal industry you are toast.”

The merger with Middletons has substantially grown the global firm’s Asia-Pacific presence.

In 2012, K&L Gates had seven offices and around 100 lawyers in the region. Following the merger, it now has 11 offices and just over 400 lawyers.

A number of global law firms have entered Australia since the global financial crisis. Stronger Asia-Pacific regional growth when compared to Europe and North America, the resources boom and the pool of common law trained English speaking lawyers in Australia has attracted firms the calibre of Clifford Chance, Herbert Smith and DLA Piper into Australia.

While those factors influenced K&L Gates decision to enter the domestic market, Kalis said the ability to position itself as the law firm of choice for American companies that invest into Australia was the key factor.

Between 2005 and 2011, US investment into Australia exceeded $550 billion, which is greater than Chinese activity into Australia.

“You don’t see it here, but in the US we are running ads targeted at the US in-house corporate counsel community projecting the firm as the solution to their legal requirements in Australia,” he said.

“I can’t tell you how general the view has been purveyed that [in Australia] there are so many great law firms, there are so many great lawyers, the bloom has gone off the economic rose a little bit – you are going to go down there and lose your shirt,” said Kalis, when speaking of the reluctance of US firms to enter the Australian market.

“Well, here is a guarantee, we are not going to lose our shirt.”

In addition to K&L gates, the only other American-headquartered US law firms with a meaningful presence in Australia are Baker & McKenzie, which has been in the domestic market since 1964, Jones Day and Squire Sanders.

“They will figure it out eventually,” said Kalis when asked about the possibility of more American firms entering the Australian market.


No redundancies or fee hikes

K&L Gates had mixed financial results for 2012.

Overall revenue came in at $US1.06 billion, a slight decline from 2011.

The brunt of this was borne by the firm’s “Americas” practice, where revenue dropped by 2.5 per cent and headcount declined by an average of seven per cent. However, its Asia-Pacific network increased revenue by 25 per cent, Europe and Middle East operations reported a 17 per cent revenue increase and income per fully participating equity partner increased.

“The lesson there is that in times of crisis, clients need high-end legal advice more than they ever did,” said Kalis when talking about the firm’s European financials in particular. “The real question is whether your clients are capable of paying the fees.

“That is a matter for law firm management, a matter of intake policy, a matter of vetting clients and making appropriate fee arrangements... and we try hard to do that.”

In Australia, Nick Nichola said that now having a global law firm moniker on invoices had not led to steeper fees.

“For K&L Gates to be locally relevant and locally credible you need to be cognisant of local conditions,” he said, adding that clients are “very sophisticated and know what constitutes value for money”.

 “What is a viable fee structure in New York City might not be the same pricing [structure] that is relevant in Brisbane.”

Nichola also reiterated Kalis’ message that the move to a global firm had not seen pressure from global management to downsize or shed lawyer numbers.

A survey of 20 managing partners from global, national and boutique firms in Australia found that almost one third of participating firms expected to roll out redundancies this year.

“That surprised me,” said Nichola. “We certainly always monitor our performance and where we are appropriately structured.

“We certainly don’t see that [redundancies in Australia] but we didn’t make anyone redundant at the height of the GFC either.”

Nichola nominated the firm’s labour, employment and workplace safety practice, as well as intellectual property and dispute resolution as being expected strong performers this year.

Like this story? Read more:

Book commemorates diamond milestone for WA law society

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

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

If we build it, will the clients come?
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Jan 23 2018
Disrupting traditional archiving and storage methods
Promoted by Fileman TRENDS COME and go but technology and its disruption to the legal landscape h...
Scales of Justice
Jan 23 2018
WA to close ‘legal loophole’ on gender reassignment laws
Laws in Western Australia will soon change to permit married people to undergo gender reassignment s...
Lawyers take to Twitter to share career stories
Jan 22 2018
Lawyers take to Twitter to share career stories
The #mypathtolaw hashtag has been embraced by legal eagles to swap stories with the Twitter communit...
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 & ...