WHILE THERE will always be room for a Freehills or an Allens Arthur Robinson, even generalist mid-tier firms are competing effectively in the current market, a newly appointed managing partner said last week.
Herbert Geer & Rundle Lawyers (HGR) this month appointed Andrew Newbold as the firm’s leading man. Newbold said that while “it’s business as usual” for the firm, he plans to maintain HGR’s performance in the mid tier.
Pressed as to how a mid-tier firm can maintain its position, as the top and mid tiers compete for the same work, Newbold said a mid-tier firm has to be smart about how it goes about its business.
The secret for the mid tier, said Newbold, is making the firm an attractive place to work. “If you have happy, technically strong staff, then good clients will gravitate to them.”
Consultant Sue-Ella Prodonovich told Lawyers Weekly this week that while the mid tier “is becoming a formidable force against the top tier”, generalist firms face a challenge in the current marketplace. “It is not so much about whether they can compete but where they are going to compete — what practices, type of clients, geographically,” she said. “Yes, the generalists can compete, but the challenge is where.”
The term ‘mid tier’ is one of the hurdles for that group, said Prodonovich. “The mid tier has so many different types. It’s not like mid-tier accounting,” she said.
“Certain firms, including Gilbert+Tobin and Henry Davis York, Arnold Bloch Leibler, are top tier in the areas in which they choose to practise,” said Prodonovich. “As well, Sparke Helmore has moved into this market, and Gadens has gone in with a high volume of mortgage work — that is a very profitable firm.”
There will always be a place for large firms such as Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Newbold said, but HGR and many other mid tiers are not competing with the top-tier players.
“In the areas that we choose, we think we stand pretty well against Mallesons. What we find is that often on the other side of our transactions there will be the Mallesons, the Clayton Utz, the Freehills. I think it’s quite a challenge. But if you are smart about the way you go about it, you can make the place attractive to come to work and you thereby attract good clients,” he said.
It is also a matter of delivering the work at competitive rates, said HGR’s Newbold. “This is what I think can set you apart,” he said.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, Dibbs Abbott Stillman managing partner Scott Sloan said that the mid tier has an “enduring and important place” in the market. He argued mid-tier firms are able to compete for value.
“The critical thing for the present resurgence of mid-tier firms and the future of them is that the clients in the Australian legal market have continued to become more sophisticated in the services that they buy. I think there are fewer and fewer clients who are totally price insensitive. Clients are out there looking for real value for money. And the quality mid-tier legal firms are able to employ solicitors who are of excellent quality … So clients are able to get the kind of solicitors they want and the prices they want from mid-tier firms,” Sloan said.
“I think there was a theory a little while ago that you had to be a mega firm, boutique, or multi disciplinary. I am very interested to see that the gurus who were espousing those views have been fairly quiet on that front in recent years. Contrary to their prophecies, we haven’t seen the demise of really good quality mid-tier firms. I think that there is a growing acceptance in the market that they are not only here to stay but that they are doing quite well.”
Sloan does not see that generalist mid-tier firms are facing a problem in being all things to all people “I think it is fair to say that very few people are everything to everybody. But in a firm such as ours we are able to provide a very strong commercial service across the spectrum to clients from mergers and acquisitions through to assisting corporate counsel on their day to day transactions,” he said.
“Clients that do business in Australia do business in all sorts of areas. Even a technology client needs its leases done, it needs its contracts done, it needs work done in the industrial relations area,” he said.
“If you look at the history of the firms that started off as boutique, many have not been able to resist the temptation to provide those services to clients when they want them,” he said.