Australia’s Top End will welcome a second top-tier law firm next month when Minter Ellison opens an office in Darwin.
Minters will join rival Clayton Utz as only the second “big six” firm to have a Northern Territory presence on 17 November by commencing a 10-year lease over a section of the old TIO building’s fourth floor in downtown Smith Street.
Former Purcell Lancioni & Cureton head partner and construction specialist Cris Cureton will carry the firm into Darwin by heading up the new operation along with “a couple” of fellow lawyers from his old firm.
National managing partner Phil Clark pointed to sustained demand for a Darwin presence from national and Asian clients as the motivating factor for northern expansion.
“This move is not being made on the back of one specific project,” he said. “We sense a real opportunity in the Territory and our client base wanted us up there.”
Construction, infrastructure as well as energy and resources clients had been primarily responsible for the calls, along with the Commonwealth Government’s defence department, Clark said.
Minters had been servicing those interests in Darwin primarily via Adelaide for the past five years on a fly-in, fly-out basis, he continued. Accordingly, the South Australian partnership — led by Nigel McBride — was “the prime mover”.
“There were a number of discussions between Cris [Cureton] and Adelaide before the matter went to a national partner vote,” Clark said. “We don’t give away the name without looking at all angles very carefully.”
A born and bred Territorian, Cureton, ironically enough, worked with Clayton Utz in Darwin until 1999 before splitting to establish his own outfit. Minters’ strategy will be to rely on Cureton, with whom it previously maintained a “low-key relationship”, and other local talent.
“We want to start the practice off with local lawyers rather than a bunch of Southerners coming in to raid the place,” Clark said.
NT Law Society President Merran Short said Darwin is now experiencing a boom, with new legal work as well as real estate prices rising steadily.