THE SOUND of champagne corks should be heard across the nation this week as a majority of Australian law firms celebrate another lucrative year and hungrily look forward to even better returns in the year ahead.
The results of a Lawyers Weekly partnership review survey have returned overwhelmingly positive results for law firms in terms of both revenue and practice area growth. Not surprisingly, these buoyant balance sheets have meant a rash of partner appointments.
Minter Ellison topped the table for the number of partners appointed throughout financial 2005/2006 with 26 new partners joining its ranks. It also boasts the biggest partnership of an Australian law firm with a head count of 270.
It has not just been at the top of the law firm tree that Minter Ellison has been busy, with the firm topping the number of graduates employed during financial 2006, hiring 109.
Mid-tier firm Deacons was second in the partnership appointment stakes, with 21 lawyers appointed partner. The top five was rounded out by Clayton Utz, Phillips Fox and Blake Dawson Waldron with 16, 15 and 12 partner appointments respectively.
The vast majority of firms that Lawyers Weekly spoke to pointed to the favourable market conditions as the secret to their success. Apart from the much-publicised energy and resources boom and the subsequent upsurge in the banking and finance sector supporting the boom, government work stood out as a highlight for many firms. This has meant that the action hasn’t all been in Australia’s mining capital, Perth, but in other states as well.
While Minter Ellison has picked up its fair share of energy and resources work in Perth, chief executive Guy Templeton says it has enjoyed stronger growth in Queensland, the ACT and South Australia. In Canberra the Federal Government has been a driver.
“We’ve been appointed to some new panels and we’ve been reappointed to others. Our biggest win was being selected for the Department of Defence on all 16 [of its] panels.”
The firm is a market leader in Adelaide and is significantly larger than its nearest competitor. “There’s certainly some upside from the energy and resources sector in the South Australian economy as well, but I wouldn’t say there has been any one [factor at play there],” he says.
“There’s been a reasonable degree of activity and we’re very well positioned in that market.” Predictably, energy and resources, and infrastructure have driven growth in Queensland, with construction also surging. “We have something like 1,500 people a week moving to Queensland and they don’t take their houses with them.”
Similarly, Asia has again proven itself a key growth area for many firms. Allens Arthur Robinson managing partner Tom Poulton noted that “the Australian market seems to have reached a certain size, and from our point of view, while we think we’ve got great growth in our domestic practice, nevertheless I think … our growth is going to be offshore,” Poulton said.
While they still make up less than 10 per cent of the firm, the Asian offices are central to the firm’s future, Poulton says. The firm has had a presence in Asia for more than 30 years and is starting to see the benefits.
“Our vision is to be the leading law firm in Australia and Asia.” Allens is starting to be seen as an alternative to other overseas firms in Asia, Poulton said, adding that it will build on itself. “We have got lots of capable partners and very capable local lawyers. We have the necessary understanding of the cultures and the systems in the places where we operate and strong language capability. Add all that up and I think it’s an achievable goal.”
Brisbane has been the town on many lawyers’ lips as the place they have seen robust growth and the place in which they think they will see it continue.
See the Partnership Review on page 18.