A recent split in the federated Ebsworth & Ebsworth practice was at least in part due to financial considerations, after the Sydney partners demanded the Melbourne office choose between entering a financially integrated and managed national partnership or exiting the framework altogether.
Matters came to a head in August last year when each of the three offices in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney were asked to make a final decision on whether it would enter a national and financially integrated model.
Declining to agree to the request, and following four or five months of discussions, the Melbourne partnership is changing its name in the near future to Monahan + Rowall, thus leaving the Ebsworth & Ebsworth practice.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, the current senior partner at Ebsworth & Ebsworth’s Melbourne practice, Patrick Monahan, who will join the partnership in its departure from the national framework, acknowledged the financial ramifications of a split were one of the deciding factors for the partnership to become independent of the Ebsworth model.
“Obviously, financial considerations played a significant part in our decision. The Melbourne office has been very profitable for many years,” Monahan said.
Consequently, Ebsworth & Ebsworth is opening a new office in Melbourne for the national firm, taking it a step closer to achieving a “strengthened”, fully integrated national practice. The firm will take with it four of the 11 existing Melbourne partners.
Despite reports that the Ebsworth & Ebsworth move was a strengthening of its national practice, Monahan pointed out “they say they are strengthening but they are going from 11 partners in Melbourne to four”.
Ebsworth & Ebsworth will be recruiting actively in the Melbourne market over the upcoming months.
The remaining seven of the 11 partners in the Melbourne office, soon to become Monahan + Rowall, will continue to serve all the remaining clients, though Monahan admitted that the four departing partners will take their clients with them.
“We will continue to service all of our current clients. Ebsworth is taking four partners and they will take with them the clients that they service already,” he said.
Rather than attempt to “be all things to all people”, Monahan + Rowall intends to focus on particular areas of practice and its long term plan is to “provide a specialised service to the transport and insurance industries in particular”, Monahan said.
While the Sydney partnership of the firm separates itself from the national model, Ebsworth & Ebsworth CEO Michael Ryan spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the strengthening of the national practice, which may be seen as a pre-emptive and progressive step towards a national profession in this country.
The new Melbourne office will open in May, following the resignation of partners Philip Battye, John Goulios, Glenn O’Brien and George Triantopoulos from the Melbourne partnership. Ian Enright, a financial services partner previously based in Melbourne, will also join the new office, which will use the Ebsworth & Ebsworth name.
Ryan spoke about the problems inherent in the federated model, pointing out that it was no longer adequate and a national form was more appropriate today.
“A federated model is not a model for a contemporary Australian law firm, especially when you have significant international clients,” Ryan said.
“Every national grouping of law firms has struggled to achieve the best model for financial integration to suit its particular circumstances,” he added. “We are keen to be working in financial integration with those partners who share that common vision for our future.”
Acknowledging that a national profession would make it easier for the national firm to transfer resources and people between the various states, Ryan said the firm would “welcome the move”. He said that the firm’s intentions are to have a common brand nationally, “so international clients know that work will be handled the same way in any number of our offices”.
In enhancing the firm’s national presence, Ryan also sees a strengthening of the firm’s client offerings. He said the move ensures the firm could now “fully service” its national clients based on the eastern seaboard.
“This is the logical next step for the firm as we position ourselves to increase the depth and strength of our client offerings,” Ryan said, adding that the remaining partners will continue to service key national clients.
Monahan acknowledged a good relationship between the partnerships. “There are some wonderful people and fine lawyers at Ebsworth & Ebsworth, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our association with them over the last 17 years and wish them everything of the very best in their new venture,” he said.