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M&A partner numbers dwindle, but still a presence

M&A partner numbers dwindle, but still a presence

The latest rounds of partner promotions announced this week reveal that some law firms have remained defiant against global trends of a weakening M&A market, with partner promotions in the…

The latest rounds of partner promotions announced this week reveal that some law firms have remained defiant against global trends of a weakening M&A market, with partner promotions in the M&A space still trickling in.

M&A practice groups have taken a beating over the last couple of months, with transactions and deals significantly down on recent years.

According to a Thomson Reuters survey released in May, worldwide M&A activity has seen the slowest start to the year in five years, and completed M&A advisory fees declined 58 per cent for year-to-date 2009, from the same period in 2008.

Michael Reede, managing partner of corporate at Clayton Utz, who promoted Niro Ananda to the M&A team, told Lawyers Weekly that the addition of an M&A partner represents the firm's long-term vision of at least 10 years.

"Our view is that you should be appointing the best people - whether it be at the top, or at the bottom, of the market," said Reede.

"Current conditions are obviously very relevant, but we should also have confidence to make the best insolvency partners at the top of the market and the best corporate partners at the bottom of the market with a view to the future."

In January Mallesons promoted two partners in the M&A team, a move which managing partner Stuart Fuller said was in line with the fact the firm has continued to get a large share of work in the market -- including acting on Chinalco's proposed investment in Rio Tinto and Kirin's acquisition of Lion Nathan. Despite this work, though, Fuller said the partner appointments, "reflect our investment in top quality people with the best legal and client services skills, with a focus on the long-term depth of capability of the firm".

Reede added that, given the length of time partners can take to consolidate their practices, it didn't make sense to promote only according to current market conditions. "A young partner will often take two years to get their practice operating at full strength," he said.

"By then market conditions will often have moved on three years from the start of the appointment process," he said.

Lawyers Weekly will publish a detailed report on the 2009 round of partner promotions in Friday's edition of Lawyers Weekly.

- Angela Priestley

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