The courtship between DLA Phillips Fox and DLA Piper has become official, with the Australian firm announcing today (28 January) it will soon become part of the global firm's network.
Since November 2006, DLA Phillips Fox has been "affiliated" with DLA Piper, receiving and referring work from the global firm, but has not been a fully integrated member of the group.
That will change from 1 May 2011, subject to a partnership vote on both sides of the merger, with DLA Phillips Fox becoming financially integrated into DLA Piper and partners having the opportunity to become full equity members of the global partnership.
By adding the five Australian offices of DLA Phillips Fox and its approximately 470 lawyers, DLA Piper will boast a network of more than 4000 lawyers across 30 countries.
DLA Phillips Fox CEO Tony Holland told a press conference in Sydney during the week that the merger would create "the world's largest business law firm and the largest global firm in Australia".
"This is a terrific development for both firms, and reflects where the legal market [in Australia] is going," he said.
Holland added that with the entry of Allen & Overy and Norton Rose in the Australian legal market over recent years, Australian clients with overseas interests were increasingly looking at the service offerings of global law firms.
"We can help our clients go overseas and also provide a seamless and integrated service to DLA Piper's clients," Holland said.
The DLA Phillips Fox partners will be having a formal vote on the merger in late February.
Holland and DLA Piper Asia managing director Alistair Da Costa said they expect "overwhelming" support when partners from both firms vote on the proposal.
In speaking at the press conference, Da Costa said that the merger "fits within our global strategy", and reflects the growing economic clout of the Asia-Pacific region.
He said that from "day one" of operation in Australia, his firm would have revenues that were expected to exceed $340 million in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes offices in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Thailand.
In a signal that DLA Piper plans to take on the established domestic top-tier firms, Da Costa said that the global network of his firm presents an "opportunity" to clients.
"As a full service global law firm, we have an Asia-Pacific and global presence that is at the finger tips of clients," he said.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Grant Fuzi, the managing partner of UK firm Allen & Overy's Australian practice, said that he is not surprised another international firm has entered the Australian market.
"If you look at the changes in the economic landscape that drew Allen & Overy here, it is that the Asian region is becoming the heart of the world economy," he said.
Fuzi cited recent statistics that showed that since 2004, the proportion of world's top 1000 global companies based in Asia had grown from 18 per cent to 30 per cent. This was expected to increase to over 50 per cent by 2022.
Fuzi added that for a global firm to be successful in Australia, it needed partners with a long established domestic presence and a clear strategic focus.
"If you were looking to convince clients to take work from established firms that was already being done very well, that would be a struggle," he said.
Holland would not rule out embarking on a lateral hire recruiting strategy, and said that lawyers had already approached him about joining the firm once it was part of the global DLA Piper network.
Once the merger is ratified, DLA Phillips Fox will change its name in Australia to DLA Piper. Holland will be the regional managing partner for Australia and a member of the executive for the Asia-Pacific.
Holland joined DLA Phillips Fox in February last year from DLA Piper, where he was the regional head of finance for the Middle East and the managing partner of the firm's Dubai office. He was also previously a partner at Mallesons Stephen Jaques.
The two New Zealand offices of DLA Phillips Fox, which has been financially separate from its Australian namesake since July last year, will continue to practice under its current name and has not entered into financial integration with DLA Piper.