most major australianlaw firms will put their faith in corporate and commercial work for a prosperous 2004, an exclusive Lawyers Weekly survey of leading partnershas revealed.
While the precise practice areas are still subject to debate, it is clear the pessimism of 2003 has been largely replaced with horns of victory promising a great year ahead. While some partners remained guarded, others spoke freely about the year’s forecast, including partners at top-tier firms Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Allens Arthur Robinson, Clayton Utz and Freehills.
The most commonly agreed upon golden goose was M&A.
Allens’ managing partner Tom Poulton expected the firm to be strong across the board, stressing its M&A practice would be full of activity. “In Asia we are already working on two new 2004 M&A deals,” he said.
Like Allens, Mallesons “remains active across all key areas of practice” but expected to see M&A predominantly busy, said managing partner Eric Mayne.
Kevin Hobgood-Brown, partner at Deacons and chair of its international coordinating committee, indicated “all areas of the firm are travelling better than expected this year.” Hobgood-Brown added, “We continue to see vigorous activity in corporate M&A, particularly acquisitions.”
Similarly, Clayton Utz chief executive partner David Fagan saw M&A and corporate law to be “pretty busy”, while Abbott Stillman and Wilson (ASW) CEO Chris Arnold said his firm would be seeing significant performance in the commercial area.
Holding Redlich’s managing partner Ian Robertson said commercial property would be a handsome fee earner in each of the firm’s Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney offices, “not withstanding forecasts of property bubbles [bursting]”.
Freehills’ chief operating officer Gavin Bell, however, said private equity was likely to be busy. “The Aussie market is not as big as the UK or US market, but there is still likely to be growth” he said. “There has been a maturing of the market.”
But Corrs Chambers Westgarth CEO John Denton played his cards close to his chest. Rather than indicating any one practice area he talked up the prospects of construction, litigation, biotechnology, corporate and finance and IT and IP.
Maurice Blackburn Cashman managing director Michael Brett Young said class actions could be strong this year: “[The firm] will be looking at shareholder actions for shareholders. [This looks to be] the best performing sector because we know what’s coming up,” he said.
Strategic planning advice and intellectual property are where Gadens Lawyers saw its strengths, attributing this, at least in part, to the growth Australian businesses are currently experiencing.
Allens’ managing partner Poulton noted the influence the Australian dollar could have on the firm, though he emphasised this was because it “may impact on resource companies generally”. Norton White also acknowledged that because the firm undertook a significant amount of shipping and trade related work, the dollar would affect the firm in some way.
Hobgood-Brown, however, said the value of the Australian dollar would not have “a noticeable impact” and Fagan said Clayton Utz was “not really bothered by the dollar”.
ASW saw business development in Asia as one of the major factors affecting the firm this year, particularly in the property and initial public offerings areas.
Denton indicated that Corrs’ business would be impacted by the same factors that will affect its clients, such as “general economic performance, currency fluctuations and political factors, both domestic and international”.