THE DEFECTION of high profile financial services lawyer, Michael Vrisakis, from Blake Dawson Waldron to his former training ground of Freehills was a reaction to market forces and the lure of acting for superannuation master trusts.
A leading legal authority in Australia’s financial services sector, Vrisakis said rapid change in the superannuation industry, including restructuring and rationalisation, had to some extent limited his practice at Blakes. Master trusts are “very much operated by the large financial institutions”, including the banks, a number of which Blakes was prohibited from acting for due to conflicts of interest.
“These were market issues, it was nothing to do with the quality of Blakes as a firm,” Vrisakis said. “It was just the fact that there were opportunities in a firm like Freehills that through no fault of Blakes weren’t open to me.”
“This is just a natural progression when you look at what’s happening in the industry.
“Also, with the Financial Services Reform legislation, there’s been a lot of confluence of different types of financial products, so superannuation, insurance and funds management are all linked. Freehills has a group that spans all those different areas, so from my point of view it was a good opportunity to be part of a bigger team with expertise in those other areas.”
Although he wasn’t actively seeking a change, Vrisakis said he probably had his “antennae out” for an opportunity where those elements would come together. While a number of firms could have met some of those criteria, he said Freehills was definitely the best match.
The opportunity to work with Greenwood & Freehills tax advisers was an added attraction, as was the fact that a number of people from his previous stint with the firm were still on board. Vrisakis started with Freehills as a graduate lawyer in 1986 and made partner in 1993, before spending eight years with Blakes.
“The primary reason that I moved [from Freehills] in the first place was to have the opportunity to set up something from scratch, which I did at Blakes, and which was immensely satisfying.
“But having done that, and given the industry rationalisation, there was an attraction for me too, having responded to that challenge to go to a different challenge.”
The irony of the superannuation industry was that there was so much money under management, but as a result of government reforms that money was becoming increasingly concentrated. “The government has upped the standards for participants in the superannuation arena,” he said.
“That means there is a more intensified concentration of super assets in a fewer number of players. That can have an impact on the legal marketplace.” However, there were growth areas in the creation of new financial products and the restructuring and rationalisation of others.
“That is work I’ve always enjoyed doing, and that work will increase as the market becomes more sophisticated and participants in the area want to streamline their range of products.
“At the end of the day, it’s a great opportunity for me,” Vrisakis said. “It’s good to be back here with a great team of people that I will be working with.”
Freehills CEO Gavin Bell said Vrisakis’s decision to return to the firm would provide many benefits.
“[He] will complement and enhance the highly regarded skill set of our national funds management team and will provide an extra dimension to the firm as a partner.
His extensive industry knowledge will support our position at the forefront of providing creative, relevant and effective solutions to meet our clients’ needs.”
Bell said he was proud of Freehills’ ability to attract the “best and brightest minds in the industry”.