WITH ALREADY an impressive list of partners in its grasp, boutique firm Addisons Lawyers last month lured in three partners and a senior associate from law firm Coudert Brothers. The move marks a growing trend of partners and senior lawyers stepping away from large firms into smaller and boutique firms across the country.
Partners Karen Hayne, Martin O’Conner, Michael Ryan and senior associate Susan Darmopil last month took their expertise to Addisons Lawyers, where they have been welcomed for complementing the existing team, said managing partner David Blackburn.
The triumvirate of partners was lured across by former Mallesons partner Jeff Mansfield, who landed at Addisons at the end of last year. But another two partners also left Coudert Brothers for Addisons Lawyers in the last six months. Jamie Nettleton and David Selig changed teams last November, leaving the door swinging for the other three partners.
The trend of partners stepping from large firms into boutique firms is a growing trend of late, the most significant move being former Blake Dawson Waldron managing partner John Stammers’ move to the Sydney office of Adelaide firm Cosoff Cudmore Knox recently. As well, senior Freehills partner Peter Rose has moved to the Melbourne office of Johnson Winter & Slattery.
The Coudert partner manoeuvrings are not due to unhappiness in the departed firm, partner Michael Ryan assured Lawyers Weekly. The four recent moves were due to a following of Mansfield, and David Blackburn, who became a partner at Addisons in 1991. They are “unusually good lawyers for such a small firm”, Ryan said. “The idea of being in a small boutique where all lawyers are high performers was quite appealing.”
Ryan and possibly the other partners would still be at Coudert Brothers had the Addisons opportunity not popped up, he said. The partners were comfortable there; however, the boutique firm appeared to be a good place to which to move, he said. “You don’t have the big firm trappings and every dollar you earn goes to the bottom line, which makes it extremely lucrative. As well, they have some fantastic clients and it’s a positive place,” he said.
As well, Ryan had for 21 years been at Norton Smith, the firm Coudert Brothers merged with in 1999. The move, he said, has given him a new lease of life, adding that he had possibly been in one place for too long. The move to the boutique firm is something he needed personally. “I’ve been revved up by this move,” he said.
Ryan and the other partners and senior associate are working harder, but differently. “I’ve got less administration so now I get less emails, less conflict checks. The emails I receive have to do with my work,” he said. “It’s back to being an uncomplicated lawyer for your clients.”
The partners have more control over their destiny, said Ryan. “We’re going to take less clients, we have a stable of larger high quality clients who we treat like royalty. We don’t have the same pressure on our fees as other firms, and we don’t have the overheads of some larger firms.”
This is a change to his work at Coudert Brothers, which is a worldwide partnership. “I quite liked the conflict checks [at Coudert], and you hear some really interesting matters, but [at Addisons] there is less to administer — it is a simple model.”
The partners take across with them domestic clients including Virgin, TCI and invocare. They also represent Dairy Farmers. This is a change to the international client focus at Coudert.
All the clients, said Ryan, are important to the boutique firm. “We do good work for them, we return phone calls, and they don’t get shunted around the office. There is a different style of practice in larger firms — they need a constant flow of large transactions,” he said.
Another noticeable feature of the move, Ryan said, is the strong sense of camaraderie. He said he felt relaxed about giving a client to another partner, arguing there is “no competition in the slightest” between the lawyers. “There is a genuine feeling of teamwork,” he said. This is because the partners and lawyers are rewarded by how the firm goes.