The international managing partner of Seyfarth Shaw, Darren Gardner, said the idea of coming to Australia and competing on a full-service basis does not make sense.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a lot more US firms come in, in a fairly forensic way, with a specialist offering, because I think it’s probably the evolution of this market and clients are going to benefit from it,” said Gardner this week, as news broke that Seyfarth had poached seven partners, including four from Herbert Smith Freehills, to set up offices in Sydney and Melbourne.
Partners Darren Perry, Chris Gardner, Justine Turnbull, Ben Dudley and senior associate Luke Edwards will depart HSF, while partners Rachel Bernasconi and Michael Tamvakologos will leave Ashurst for the new venture. Henry Skene, who used to work for HSF, will also leave Arnold Bloch Leibler to join Seyfarth.
All the new partners are unavailable for comment as they have not yet been released by their current firms and their contract arrangements are reportedly still being discussed.
Gardner, who said he knows some of the partners well, said it could be some months before they are able to start at the firm and he would not say when the firm would officially open.
The announcement marks a new surge of US law firms that have entered the Australian market recently: two HSF partners resigned to establish the Australian office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan last month; K&L Gates arrived through a tie-up with Middletons in January, and Squire Sanders opened a Sydney office last year after launching in Perth in 2011.
“I think the US firms have probably become more attuned to the quality of Australian lawyers and to what is actually in this market,” said Gardner.
Seyfarth focuses purely on cross-border work for large companies and claims it is involved in most major employment litigation across the US.
It has more than 350 employment lawyers and a total of 850 legal professionals, operating mainly in the US. Gardner said the firm had no figure in mind for the number of lawyers it wanted for its Australian operation but that it was now actively looking to recruit.
“We’d like to have as many [lawyers] as we need [so we] have the scale to work with a client or matter of any size, anywhere in the country,” he said.
Gardner said Seyfarth was able to attract the seven partners because of its specialist offering.
“There’s no [conflict] if you do it this way. [Employment law] is the focus of the firm: [partners] aren’t a small part of something that might be focused on something else. If you’re a good tennis player you don’t go out and play professional golf,” he said.
Gardner, who is originally from Sydney, was at Minters for 10 years and helped open the firm’s New York office in early 2000, before moving to Seyfarth at the beginning of 2007.