FOLLOWING THE recent appointment of former Freehills partners Mick Dulaney and Peter Smith, Johnson Winter & Slattery (JWS) have opened a new office in Perth.
According to the new partners, the focus of the office for the foreseeable future will be the corporate resources area in which they both specialise. Dulaney’s expertise is in upstream oil and gas work, with a particular focus on LNG projects, while Smith specialises in corporate law, focusing on the energy and resources industry.
Only in its second week, the office currently comprises just Dulaney, Smith and a solicitor from the firm’s Adelaide office, however they’re now actively in the process of hiring new staff and finding a permanent premises.
Moving from one of the country’s largest firms to a three-lawyer office is certainly a sea change, but according to Dulaney, that’s exactly what he and Smith were looking for.
“We’ve made no secret of [why we moved from Freehills]. Conflicts in the big firms have been a real problem for a lot of people, and Freehills is very big and successful, particularly in Perth where they are by far the largest firm in the market. Our oil and gas practice was so successful that we kept tripping over each other and there were real conflicts,” Dulaney said.
“So the opportunity to do something completely different, to go from the biggest firm in town to one of the smallest, and to get out of that conflict space at least until we create our own conflicts, was very attractive.”
Despite suggestions from one anonymous source that the partners’ departure has left Freehills energy and resources team in the lurch, Smith said their departure was amicable.
“We left Freehills on good terms and there have probably been some benefits to both of us there. Where Freehills has conflicts, we’re probably in a good position to look after them there. And similarly, we’re not a full-service firm here in Perth, so when we need some support from outside, then Freehills will be the logical place for us to look,” Dulaney said.
In making the decision to join JWS, Smith said that one of the big attractions was the firm’s “low leverage” structure, whereby partners and senior lawyers directly service the clients, rather than the work being passed down to more junior solicitors.
“I like the whole ethos of a ‘senior lawyer firm’ where senior lawyers are delivery legal services directly to clients,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity to get involved in a firm with this particular structure because it’s a very rare creature.”
Dulaney added: “It’s the way I’ve tended to practice and that works for us, particularly in the resources industry. I think our resources clients really like the idea of being serviced by a senior lawyer. The reaction from clients so far has been very positive.”