SYDNEY is on the right track in its drive to become a regional international arbitration (IA) centre, according to Coudert Brothers worldwide head David Huebner, who visited Australia last week.
Touching down in Sydney for four days as part of his global tour of all Coudert offices, the Los Angeles-based chairman and IA specialist was given a liberal taste of the wares of the profession Down Under.
Already alerted to the fact that top-tier firms had commenced the IA push, Huebner talked up the prospect of Couderts becoming involved.
“The chances are good. We’ve got one of the oldest IA practices in the world and are very focused on expanding that,” he said. “Development has already occurred in our Beijing and Hong Kong offices.”
“We try to get ahead of the curve and would
like to jump in quickly into what is happening here
Formerly on the advisory panel of the Institute for Transnational Arbitration, Huebner felt that Sydney needn’t budget for its push to take long, provided the regulatory framework was in place.
“It’s not as laborious as you might imagine,” he claimed. “There are very few steps that need to be taken — regulatory framework, a promotional entity and determined stakeholders. It’s a matter of commitment, rather than years.”
Aside from scooping out the developments in IA, Huebner used his first visit to Australia to meet and greet Coudert lawyers — both existing and prospective.
“I’ve spent time talking to our staff and also sat in on talks with those we are interviewing as lateral partner hires,” he said. “Sydney has been one of our most profitable offices and we’re looking to add people. There are a good number of prospects out there.”
While Huebner believes legal practice in hometown LA and Sydney bear many similarities, his whirlwind tour did confirm one important difference he had suspected for sometime.
“Australian lawyers, including those we have interviewed, are very interested in mobility. In the US, associates are more difficult to move — they appear to be less eager.”
“There is an intense desire from our Aust-
ralian workers to use the global network fully.”
Team leverage was another area in which Huebner noted Australian lawyers to be more aggressive.
“Partners here don’t bill as many hours themselves. There’s more emphasis on building large teams to service a single client. That might explain why Australian associates are so ambitious.”
Huebner’s tour coincides with Couderts’ 150th anniversary, a year during which a number of upheavals — SARS and the Iraq war among them — have arisen on the global practice front.
Using the analogy of a mutual fund to describe the firm’s emphasis on diversified practice, Huebner felt it had ridden out the challenges well because each global office was well staffed.
He said that those firms who relied on “fly in, fly out” strategies to service clients — especially those in Asia during the SARS crisis — had suffered most.
“Things are nicely stable at the moment and we always tend to trend upwards regardless of the global climate because the firm is well diversified. It’s a nice averaging out — you may not get those intense upwards spikes, but you don’t get the downwards ones either.”