Attributing the move to the needs of her clients, exiting partner Deborah Chew said last week that clients are searching for high quality legal services and levels of attention, but without the high costs. Most cannot afford the big firms, she argued.
“I found the clients I had at Allens were interested in the move and receptive to the concept of being serviced at the same quality level, but from a smaller firm. I have had a good response particularly from smaller clients at Allens,” she said. “I think there is a general understanding and desire in my target market for receiving a high level of quality at a more cost effective rate.”
Chew told Lawyers Weekly she believed smaller firms have a different attitude to smaller clients, arguing “[at a smaller firm] you get the level of service you don’t get at a larger firm”.
“At Allens there is a large focus on the big deals, which they are good at. I think it is more difficult to service the middle market from a firm like Allens, partly because it has a cost structure that makes it more difficult.”
Her new practice, she said, will concentrate on medium-sized, high-growth companies and private equity firms. Hall & Wilcox offers clients a tailored, commercially focused and more cost-effective service, she said, but also provides the levels of technical expertise and service standards her clients expect.
“Allens [Arthur Robinson’s] corporate and commercial practice is focused on a different segment of the legal market, so it doesn’t promote to, or target, my high-growth clients,” she said.
She said she approached Hall & Wilcox because the firm provides a platform for servicing clients within her target markets. “I was particularly impressed by their exemplary tax expertise and their track record of acting for a host of large private companies and high-net-worth family groups,” she said. “Hall & Wilcox’s areas of expertise, particularly their strong financial services practice, are extremely relevant to my client base.”
Before joining Hall & Wilcox, Chew was a partner at Allens for almost three years. She practised for more than 10 years with the San Francisco-based firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliff and the New York firm Debevoise & Plimpton.
Pressed as to whether she felt the shift of partners and senior lawyers from top-tier firms into smaller, medium sized firms was due to an inherent unhappiness, Chew said happiness is ultimately a question of what the particular firm is. She said, however, that the move from Allens to Hall & Wilcox was not about the hours, arguing it was to focus on a segment of her client base she was interested in.
Having worked in a New York firm, she said the hours she has experienced in both Allens and Hall & Wilcox have not been excessive. Long hours are part of the standard lifestyle in New York, she said, “you arrive at 9.30 and stay until the wee hours. After a while you get tired of this”. This was the reasoning for coming to Australia, “and though you have periods when the work is intense, it is much better than it was in New York”, she said. “At Allens, though demanding, my hours were much better than they were in New York.”
“What you want is a firm that respects personal time, that believes its lawyers have a life outside the firm, and who are happy when the work permits. It depends on the firm,” she said. She noted that Allens was receptive to this need.