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Australian firm calls US home

Australian firm calls US home

AUSTRALIA’S ONLY law firm with offices in the United States is enjoying the fruit of Silicon Valley’s comeback. Minter Ellison opened its San Francisco office six years ago with two staff, and…

AUSTRALIA’S ONLY law firm with offices in the United States is enjoying the fruit of Silicon Valley’s comeback.

Minter Ellison opened its San Francisco office six years ago with two staff, and now employs 12. Growth has ridden on the firm’s cornerstone international employment practice, reflecting the one-time popularity of offshoring, and the fundamental strength of the US multinational companies in the Asia Pacific region. More recently, the firm has enjoyed success in the corporate intellectual property practice area.

“International employment as a practice area has really started to catch the attention of people,” explained managing partner of Minter Ellison San Francisco, Darren Gardner.

“Once, employment law was regarded as at the lower end of the spectrum, but now in international acquisitions, an international employment lawyer is one of the first people called into the room. Nowadays more and more often the assets of a company are tied up in its people,” he said.

Minters’ US operations were initially set up in New York in 2000, but it pulled out of the east coast two years ago after it became evident that its clients were the sort that looked out to the Pacific, rather than across to Europe.

At the time of the initial set-up, two other Australian firms, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Allens Arthur Robinson, had already closed their New York offices, so the decision for Minters to open up there had not been an obvious, follow-the-leader one. “What we’ve done in the US is focus on the things we’re good at. [The US] is an enormous, diverse economy; a market that’s very broad and deep. If your skill set matches the requirements of the market you can do very well,” said Gardner.

Minters San Francisco has enjoyed year-on-year growth, with revenue and profits on a par with the rest of the firm back in Australia. Each year the firm has budgeted for a 50 per cent growth in revenue, and so far has exceeded the target every year, the firm said. Gardner explained that international employment had been central to its “dramatic success” because “for one thing, one of the real differences for US companies doing business with Australia and Asia is the employment laws. For example, the American ‘at will’ employment is pretty much unique to this country”.

But the firm’s practice has now expanded, with the intellectual property practice — being situated in the middle of Silicon Valley — proving a winner over the past 18 months. Minters’ IP partner Richard Horton is an Australian lawyer who came across from the US firm Skadden, Arps, Slate. “IP is central to all commercial transactions coming out of California. Soon IP will be half the [Minters] office,” predicts Gardner.

The firm and Gardner himself have enjoyed kudos locally in the United States, with Gardner being featured in a Forbes Radio program called Special Tribute to America’s Best Lawyers in October 2005. “It’s funny, but we’re the only Australian firm with an office over here in the US, yet we have attracted much more attention here than we have back at home,” he said.

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