e one thing in common: they made waves in the profession in the last year when they - and, in some cases, their teams - packed up their bags and headed for greener pastures. Read on for our top ten countdown.
Michael Rochester, McCullough Robertson
The firm was launching an office in Newcastle, and infrastructure specialist Rochester was given the opportunity to head up the new venture. He had already worked at McCullough Roberston for 10 years, ending in 2005, but says he wasn't thinking of moving on from Sedgman when this opportunity arose.
"I wasn't actively looking at all. I really enjoyed my time at Sedgman, but this role came up ... and it was an exciting and challenging opportunity to open a new office in a new area. And I knew the firm well, obviously, and it has an active and respected resources practice," he says.
Last October, Rochester moved back to McCullough Robertson to launch the Newcastle office, which was set up mainly to service clients with infrastructure and resources projects in the Hunter Valley region.
"[The firm] was doing a number of large transactions in the Hunter Valley, and we had a lot of people spending a lot of time down here, so it seemed logical to set up a permanent base," he says.
Rochester says that one of the challenges has been building the firm's reputation outside its traditional base in Queensland. "On the business side it's just been getting our name known and out there ... just showing that we are an alternative to the [other firms] in this market," he says.
"We've been fortunate that we had an existing client base here to build off, but we're looking to expand that with new clients, so it has been a challenge to get out there and about and let people know what we do."
Other challenges have been administrative - such as setting up a new, physical office space and integrating the IT systems with the Brisbane office.
Currently, the office comprises 10 staff, who - with the exception of a recent, local recruit - were originally based in Brisbane.
"[The office] will grow as work dictates, but the original aim of this office was to service the niche areas of resources and infrastructure and that will remain the immediate focus," Rochester explains. "Whether we expand into other areas in the future will depend on whether we see that there are opportunities."
Robert Hanley, Mallesons Stephen Jaques
It was quite a coup for Mallesons Stephen Jaques when in August last year, Minter Ellison's London managing partner, Robert Hanley, decided to jump ship and join their London office.
Hanley, an M&A specialist, was drawn to the opportunity to build Mallesons' M&A practice in London, and to further extend the firm's M&A capability throughout Europe and Asia in areas such as foreign investment, private equity investments, IPOs and equity capital market issues and restructurings.
Now into his eighth month heading up the firm's London M&A team on cross-border transactions, Hanley acknowledges that the firm's workflows have fallen as a result of the economic crisis, but he also notes that the nature of the work has shifted markedly.
"I started work at Mallesons the week that Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and others faltered and the equity markets crashed. Since then the normal flow of M&A work (including private equity transactions) and equity capital markets work has declined," he says. "However, in place of the usual M&A work, we have been busy on distressed asset acquisitions and corporate reorganisations and work-outs."
He says the team has also been working with the firm's offices in Asia on a range of transactions, including Chinese outbound investments to Australia.
Justice Virginia Bell, High Court of Australia
EASILY IN the running for the most high-profile legal appointment of the year was that of Justice Virginia Bell to the High Court of Australia.
Justice Bell became the fourth female to be appointed to Australia's top court, when, on 3 February 2009, she officially stepped into the position left by one of the Court's most outspoken and media-savvy judges, Michael Kirby.
In announcing her appointment, Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said that in particular, Bell's criminal law expertise would be a welcome addition to the High Court - expertise that had been missed since Justice Callinan's retirement in 2007.
Now 58, Bell launched her legal career with the Redfern Legal Centre in 1978 before joining the NSW bar in 1984. She was appointed a public defender in 1986 and she returned to private practice in 1989. Her career experience includes being one of the counsel assisting the Wood Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service between 1994 and 1997. In 1997 she was appointed senior counsel and in 1999 she was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
In addition to her reputation as a top-notch criminal lawyer, Bell is known as a longstanding supporter of LGBT and human rights issues, and she marched in the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1978.
Warren Jiear, Hynes Lawyers
Jiear had been with Quinn & Scattini for 15 years, heading up the commercial litigation team, and said the decision to move on wasn't made lightly. "I'd been in the one place for 15 years and I'd never tested the water anywhere else. So, when I decided to do it, it was a pretty fundamental change, and I wanted to make sure that the place I was looking at was suitable and a complementary fit," he says.
He started searching for greener pastures when he realised that his style of practice no longer melded with the approach of his former employer.
"As I was focusing on the work that I was doing and attracting certain clients I found that the style of practice didn't suit what I was doing or the clientele ... and when you realise your visions and goals really differ from everyone around you, you have two options - you can stay and be unhappy or you can look at what you want to do and where you want to go and explore those options," he says.
Jiear says that one of the attractions of Hynes Lawyers was the fit of his practice into the firm's existing service offerings.
"I looked at the firm and found they had a very strong reputation in commercial matters and certain areas of property, but they weren't really well known for insolvency and some commercial litigation areas, so I saw that as being a really complementary practice mix with what I do," he says.
He also believes there's a strong cultural fit, which he discovered on his first meetings with managing partner Robert Hynes. "It was one of the most relaxed first meetings with anyone that I can recall. The two of us just clicked ... I found that our whole approach to dealing with clients and staff and business as a whole was very similar," he says.
Jiear started out primarily as a commercial litigator, but over the years he's narrowed his focus towards insolvency, and now heads up Hynes' newly formed commercial recovery and restructuring team.
"I developed my practice [towards] insolvency from about 2000 onwards. I suppose at that time insolvency wasn't seen as a great industry to be in, with the property, business and mining booms, but its an area that I found really suited what I do and the style of work that I enjoy," he explains.
He was joined in the move by his team, lawyers Tim Mitchell and Georgia Fletcher, trainee lawyer Jane Hibberd, and law clerk Amanda Hickey.
John Schembri, Gilbert + Tobin
After 18 years at Freehills, partner John Schembri left the familiar surrounds of the firm to head up Gilbert + Tobin's banking and finance group, commencing on 9 October 2008.
Schembri had been a partner in Freehills' banking & finance group for 12 years, specialising in structured finance (including asset finance and structured products), project finance (including power & energy, mining and resources, oil and gas, transport, infrastructure and PPPs) and acquisition finance (including private equity and leveraged finance).
Three of his team members from Freehills joined him in making the transition, Ros O'Mally, Caroline Power and Simon Miles. O'Mally and Power have 24 years' combined experience in structured finance, project, PPP and leveraged finance. Miles has four years of experience in asset finance, property finance and project finance.
Schembri says the opportunity to build his own banking and finance group with the backing of Gilbert + Tobin's resources was irresistible.
"Gilbert + Tobin is a leading brand in the M&A, IT, regulatory and litigation space and so the opportunity to build a market-leading banking and finance group there was just too good to refuse," he says.
"I chose G+T because they offered me the opportunity to build a banking and finance group within a firm that was already a leading brand in the corporate area.
"Also, the Australian legal market is fairly small when it comes to large commercial financings and so banks have found themselves with limited choice of law firms due to conflicts. Building a banking & finance practice at G+T has given the banks another choice when appointing lawyers on large, complex financings."
Schembri has been involved in some high-profile public deals since joining the firm. "I led the team at G+T that acted for ANZ, BBVA, CBA, NAB and Westpac in the financing of the Cairns and Mackay Airports in January. This financing was one of the most significant Australian financings that has successfully closed during the global financial crisis," he says.
Teresa Torcasio, Herbert Geer
"[I have acted] for a number of high-profile television personalities and athletes and, later, major companies who sponsored entertainers, AFL clubs and athletes," Torcasio says.
"I have been involved in setting up the legal framework for many major sporting events hosted in Australia - including the Commonwealth Games 2006, the 2000 Olympic Games, the World Masters Games 2002 and the World Deaf Games/Deaflympics 2005 - and some well known film and theatrical productions."
Before joining Herbert Geer as a partner in June 2008, Torcasio was a senior associate in Freehills' Commercial Services Group. She has established a reputation in the industry for her commercial contracting expertise, with 13 years' experience in franchising, retail and distribution, sports, entertainment and major events.
Despite the glamour of working on such high-profile matters, Torcasio says she has no regrets about her decision to move into her current area of law, commercial contracting.
"Although sports and entertainment is a specialised area of law, the work was predominantly commercial contracting, which is one of my key strengths.
"I still do some very interesting work in sports, entertainment and major events, although my practice is now much broader."
Torcasio has forged an up-close-and-personal relationship with clients in a broad range of industries spanning manufacturing, retail, franchising, resources and logistics. "For most of these companies, I act as a 'quasi' in-house counsel, drafting day-to-day contracts as well as strategic and major commercial agreements," she says.
She hasn't looked back since joining Herbert Geer, and is determined to continue to drive the firm's growth.
"I joined Herbert Geer because I was so impressed with the firm's passion and the calibre of its people and clients. My skills are valued by the business, so the support and encouragement that I've received to build my practice has been nothing short of outstanding.
"It's exciting to join a firm that is growing and evolving before your eyes and that you know is destined for even greater things."
Greg Terry, Blake Dawson
Terry has extensive experience in Indonesia, beginning with a posting to Jakarta as first secretary in the Australian Embassy when he was a member of the Australian Foreign Service. His government career also included postings in Laos and Washington. He is admitted to practice in Victoria, England, Wales, Hong Kong and Washington State.
For the last 20 years, Terry's work has focused on large capital markets transactions, both debt and equity, and M&A in the Asian region, with particular expertise in joint ventures, which is a common business vehicle.
Terry chose to join the firm for a number of reasons. First, as vice-chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston, Terry had been on the advisory board of Blake Dawson and says he formed a high opinion of the firm for its legal excellence and entrepreneurial approach to the practice of law.
"Secondly, I believe Indonesia will finally start to realise its potential in the years ahead and Blake Dawson has the longest and most successful presence in Jakarta focused on the right area - resources. Accordingly, the Blake Dawson office is an excellent platform on which to build.
"Thirdly, my wife is Indonesian and Indonesia is my second home," he says
Nicholas Grambas, Baker & McKenzie
Grambas has more than 20 years' experience in Australian, Asian, Middle East and UK infrastructure (greenfield/brownfield/M&A) and project finance across energy and utilities, transportation, water & waste water, and social infrastructure.
Prior to his current role, Grambas was an executive director at Macquarie Group and head of Macquarie Capital Funds (Middle East), based in Abu Dhabi. Prior to Macquarie Group was a partner at Freehills. He has also worked in the London offices of Linklaters & Paines and Freshfields.
Grambas started his career at Baker & McKenzie in 1986, and cites a "higher level of comfort" with the firm as part of his motivation to return. "[There's an] understanding of the culture, the business model and the value of the global network," Grambas told Lawyers Weekly.
Working in the Middle East, Grambas was at the centre of global infrastructure and project finance. His decision to return to Melbourne was prompted by personal reasons, and he returned with his family in September 2009.
He says his experience in the Middle East gives him a unique grasp of the global nature of his practice area. "Having both legal and commercial experience in developed and developing markets, relationships with global players (be they governments, strategic/financial sponsors, SWFs, pension funds and financial institutions) and being at the forefront of market developments, enables me to provide a unique offering to clients both in Australia and overseas, utilising the Baker's global platform."
Currently, Grambas is busy with some deliberately low-profile but highly significant deals: acting for a bidder in a confidential Australian infrastructure assets deal, and establishing an infrastructure fund for a foreign government.
Peter Jarosek, Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Jarosek has been practising as an energy and resources lawyer for more than 25 years and specialises in oil and gas, LNG, the power industry and energy infrastructure. He has previously acted on the $12 billion Pluto LNG project, the Sunrise gas project in the Timor Sea and the Browse LNG project.
Corrs planned to develop its oil and gas practice and Jarosek wanted to be a part of that, he says.
"I was ready for a new challenge and was impressed by Corrs' strategic plan, its strong client focus and its commitment to growing its energy and resources industry division. Corrs has been making a significant impression on the market in recent years and is seen as a firm on the rise, confirmed by its recent involvement in a number of major deals and projects. Corrs was attracted to me by what they saw as my strong industry reputation and loyal client relationships."
Siobhan Flores-Walsh, Australian Business Lawyers,
Before joining the partnership of Australian Business Lawyers in October 2008, Siobhan Flores-Walsh's had a varied career.
She began as a graduate at Shell working in industrial relations then moved into private practice at Clayton UTZ and specialised in employment law. Blake Dawsons then lured Flores-Walsh, through their dedicated practice to her specialty.
In her early 30s, Flores-Walsh left private practice "like most women, statistically, in law", she says, and took an in-house role for five years at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), partly for the flexibility offered her as a new mother. She was initially an industrial relations manager for the television division and then moved into a corporate industrial relations and legal role.
Once Flores-Walsh's son had become more independent, she returned to Clayton UTZ for nearly six years as special counsel as well as being involved in law firm management, which she says was invaluable experience. She then moved onto Baker & McKenzie for two years before taking up her current role.
Australian Business Lawyers (ABL) is a boutique workplace law firm, and Flores-Walsh focuses her practice on litigation, occupational health and safety, discrimination and handling grievance complaints.
She says that while Baker & McKenzie was a great firm, she was particularly attracted to the business model of ABL, which does not impose a budget of seven chargeable hours a day, like most typical larger law firms.
"First of all [ABL] wants [solicitors and partners] to have the time to really deal with clients' issues properly without this pressure of very significant billings in a day, so you do have some time to sit back and not necessarily bill every minute," she says.
"Secondly we aim not to exhaust our lawyers, so that you do have people that are working from a reasonably fresh position. So we pay at market rates but the billable [hours] or the budget is based on five chargeable hours a day for our partners and five and half for our solicitors - which is significantly less than major firms."
Flores-Walsh says that ABL is ranked as one of the top three employment law practices in Australia and she wanted to work for a market leader. Since joining the firm, she has done work for the construction industry by providing occupational health and safety (OHS) training and advice as well as helping clients move into the Commonwealth OHS system, which is "quite cutting edge for private sector clients," she says.
Workplace law is particularly interesting at the moment because of the impending introduction of the Fair Work Bill, she adds.
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