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Boutique firm finds treasure in Pacific islands

Boutique firm finds treasure in Pacific islands

It's not quite a life of laptops and palm tress, but John Ridgeway, managing partner of Pacific Legal Network (PLN) Lawyers, says his unique firm has posted post GFC-defying growth, courtesy of…

It's not quite a life of laptops and palm tress, but John Ridgeway, managing partner of Pacific Legal Network (PLN) Lawyers, says his unique firm has posted post GFC-defying growth, courtesy of its legal referral service covering the Pacific atolls.

Having just picked up an award last month at the NSW Export Awards, and preparing to head to the "nationals" next week as a finalist in the Australian Exporter of the Year awards - presented by the Prime Minister - Ridgeway is keen to highlight the increasing importance of Pacific economies to our region.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly on Tuesday, Ridgeway explained how his firm - which has six lawyers and himself as the sole partner - assists clients in obtaining legal services across English, French and American parts of the Pacific, including areas as diverse as the Cook Islands, Fiji, American Samoa, French Polynesia, Nauru, and Kiribati.

"Our firm offers the ability to provide a coordinated legal service - to control and maintain the quality of the responses and make life easier for our key corporate clients," he said.

Ridgeway adds that his firm is also the only international firm to offer direct legal services across such diverse parts of the Pacific.

While the GFC has indirectly impacted these Pacific economies, Ridgeway explained how the firm has managed to grow 30 per cent every year for the last five years - noting that this was a major factor in them winning the NSW award. "It was because of our growth pattern, and also because we're not selling widgets to China, we're doing something different," he said. "We're exporting our services to a part of the world which people would not ordinarily think about."

Ridgeway recognised a need for such a service in the Pacific after finding himself a legal role in Vanuatu in the early 1990s when he was actually hoping, at the time, to find work in Asia. "I didn't know where Vanuatu was, most people probably don't," he said.

Ridgeway was later lured back to Australia to work for the then Blake Dawson Waldron, then on to Clayton Utz where he set up an office for the firm in Vanuatu - which he later bought out. By the late 1990s he returned to Sydney and joined Tresscox as a partner.

From Tresscox, Ridgeway established the foundations of PLN through his referral service providing a network of firms he had worked and dealt with in the Pacific. By 2002, the service was spun off into his own firm - originally with some assistance from PWC Legal - and later operating independently.

These days the firm predominantly undertakes corporate and banking work, with the client-base almost entirely centred around multi-nationals - like ANZ, Westpac, and Digicel.

Lawyers from PLN will represent the firm at the Australian Export Awards on November 20 in Canberra.

- Angela Priestley

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