Clifford Chance will be opening offices in Sydney and Perth on 1 May 2011.
The global United Kingdom based firm announced today (16 February) that it has entered the Australian market via respective mergers with Chang, Pistilli & Simmons (CPS) in Sydney and Cochrane Lishman Carson Luscombe (CLCL) in Perth.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Clifford Chance managing partner David Childs said that his firm would "not compete head on with the big national firms", and would concentrate on major corporate transactions.
"What we will concentrate on is high end M&A work, offering a combination of very, very good local talent, and of course our international network, and at the moment, I don't think anyone else can offer that."
Childs said that Australia was becoming increasingly attractive to Clifford Chance, as it was the second largest market for outbound investment from China after the USA, and had emerged as the largest M&A market in the Asia-Pacific region over the last five years.
It has long been rumoured that Clifford Chance would enter the Australian market, with Childs refusing to comment on whether his firm was close to merging with Mallesons Stephen Jaques before the global financial crisis in 2008/09. Earlier this month, Mallesons CEO Robert Milliner told Lawyers Weekly that his firm and Clifford Chance "were close on how to serve the market pre-GFC".
CPS managing partner Mark Pistilli confirmed with Lawyers Weekly that discussions between his firm, Clifford Chance and CLCL had been underway for almost a year before the official merger announcement.
"The reason that it took so long, is that they had quite an extensive machinery, with alot of partners, so on that side, it took some time for Clifford Chance to see that we would be the right cultural fit for them," he said. "On our side, we spent a lot of time travelling to different offices, particularly in Asia and also Europe, to make sure they were the kind of people that would be a good fit for our people, and that all takes time."
Pistilli said that his firm had received a number of approaches from global firms, but Clifford Chance delivered a model that focused on "high end, complex remunerative work, that at the same time gives you the benefit of a large network."
When the merger becomes official on 1 May, both CPS and CLCL will be under the name of Clifford Chance. Of the 14 partners at both Australian firms, the name partners will be full equity partners, with the other partners on the next rung of the firm's partnership.
Pistill will be the managing partner of the firm's Sydney office, and Michael Lishman the head of the Perth office.
"This merger will give us the chance to do more cross border work than we do at the moment, and give us the opportunity to recruit a larger number of young lawyers," Lishman told Lawyers Weekly. "For an old guy like me, this is an exciting opportunity to grow our firm after five years of operation.
"It gives me another reason to get out of bed in the morning."
Lishman, who was the head of the M&A group at Mallesons, and fellow Mallesons partner Ian Cochrane, started their own firm in 2006. In December last year, Cochrane expressed his frustrations at working in a big firm, by telling Lawyers Weekly that he and Lishman "were both becoming aware of the fact that the big firm model, particularly in the M&A space, was starting to fracture and show some signs of strain."
Lishman says that although the firm's current leverage model, with CLCL having seven partners and eight lawyers, would increase, it would not be dramatic.
"Both Ian and myself said that we would only consider merger offers from a magic circle firm, and when a firm like Clifford Chance talks to you, you listen very seriously, he says. "We thought their strategy in Asia and in entering the Australian market was a good one, in that they don't want to be too big, which was very important to us and will not disrupt how we act for our clients."
Lishman said that in discussions with Peter Charlton, the head of Clifford Chance Asia, both CLCL independently nominated CPS as a Sydney boutique firm to speak with, with CPS in turn recommending CLCL in Perth.
Clifford Chance has 29 offices in 20 countries, with 350 lawyers in its Asian offices of Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo. Revenue generated from these offices stands at about $200 million.
Childs said that a handful of partner's from his firm would move to Sydney and Perth fairly soon after the merger on 1 May. "There is alot lot of very good lawyers in Australia, and we will add some further hires in due course," he said.
Scott Bache, originally from South Australia who started his legal career with Finlaysons but has been a partner at Clifford Chance in Hong Kong since 2005, is expected to join the Sydney office.