MALLESONS has near domination of the market and Allens Arthur Robinson is going through disarray, despite its strong presence in some of the top deals of the year, according to a newly released guide to the world’s leading financial law firms.
According to the IFLR1000 2008 edition, “one cannot help but sense a feeling of disarray from Allens Arthur Robinson as the firm witnessed the departure of two highly-reputed capital markets lawyers, Jon North and Andrew Clarke”. The subjective assessment sits in the write-up about that firm’s performance in the capital markets area.
The editorial suggests Allens is facing a setback in replacing “two stalwarts of the Australian market”. One unnamed peer is quoted as saying the firm has always had a good ranking in the area, but that the loss of a number of lead partners “will probably have repercussions on their practice. They’ve hit a big wall, though I’m sure they will rebuild”.
But the firm itself rejects suggestions that the loss of the partners has seriously impacted their performance in capital markets. While noting that IFLR1000 publishers Euro Money did not ask the firm for comment, David McClune, director of marketing and client services at Allens Arthur Robinson, said the firm is like any other in that it sometimes loses partners.
McClune said that like at Mallesons, Freehills and other firms, some partners reach a point in their lives when they want to move to investments banks and other areas. He said the firm is now moving into a “succession phase” with its capital markets practice.
Dismissing allegations that the capital markets practice has “hit a big wall”, McClune said the firm has four young partners who are actively driving the practice. “So this is just a fact of life, succession,” he said.
But apart from the comments about “the obvious hurdles created by the loss of these lawyers”, the IFLR1000 said Allens had capitalised on its reputation in the equity markets.
“The firm’s fantastic repertoire also earned it the position of underwriter and global coordinator on the A$8 billion offer of shares by Telstra T3.”
In M&A as well, Allens “has always held its own, with a loyal client following that comprises some of the biggest corporate leaders and risk-takers in the market”. The report noted that while the firm has lost North and Clarke, it did have Ewen Crouch, who has “done a great job in leading the firm over the past few years”.
McClune agreed that the firm had seen a great year in M&A, labelling the IFLR1000’s assessment of its performance in that area as an accurate one. As the write-up about the firm in all other areas is positive, McClune puts a positive spin on the suggestion that the firm has hit a wall, saying “it’s not bad wall to hit”.
It was Mallesons Stephen Jaques that was written about with much fanfare in the 2008 report. The firm is “one of the vanguard firms in the country for its capital markets expertise under the capable leadership of David Friedlander”. In banking, the firm “has lost a few partners but kept its cool”.
The report does not explain why a loss of two partners at Allens Arthur Robinson equates to its being in “disarray” while the same thing at Mallesons sees the firm handling it well.
Mallesons’ performance in all areas sees it being the only firm constantly listed in Tier One of the report, including in capital markets, debt, where the firm “successfully maintains its preeminent position in the debt arena this year, scooping up several complex, high-profile deals and proving ‘they definitely dominate the landscape’, as one peer said”.
In all other areas, Allens, Blake Dawson Waldron, Freehills and Clayton Utz join it as the top firms in most areas.
These firms stand together in the Tier One category in mergers and acquisitions. The report states that Mallesons maintains its excellent track record in this area, “picking up some of the largest and most innovative deals this year”. It lists the firm’s role in T3, as well as CVC Asia Pacific’s bid for a stake in PBL’s key media assets, among other deals.
Freehills, as well, has “commanded appreciated from peers and clients for its corporate work”, while Gilbert + Tobin “has seen a magnificent year advising on some of the most high-profile deals in the market”.
Mallesons Stephen Jaques managing partner Robert Milliner told Lawyers Weekly that the firm sees surveys like the IFLR1000 as a guide to where its reputation is, and something all the firms consider to be an important benchmarking tool.
“But it’s just one of those factors as well as other external measures like comparable financial outcomes and then client awards,” Milliner said. “In our view, the important thing is the consistency of results that you achieve over a period of time from those benchmarking results.”
The report attributes part of Mallesons’ success in banking to its client base, stating “the firm has maintained its reputation for another glittering year, attracting a diverse portfolio of clients”. Milliner said good client relationships come from “having basically what the clients want”, crediting this to the firm employing very talented people, and having an organisation culture and process that reinforced those relationships.
Each organisation will focus on who the people are with the highest profile, or who has done the most recent big deal, and who is recognised for certain expertise, Milliner said. When pressed as to what impact losing one of these people will have on an organisation, he noted that the inevitable part in each law firm will be to have leaders of practice areas.
“And there’s no doubt that if you have somebody who’s a fairly key part of your team and they go, it does test the organisation. That is where I think the depth of your talent pool really comes into it,” Milliner said.
“We’ve worked on developing consistent depth and that’s important because we want people to be able to go into any of our offices, into any of our practice teams, and basically get people with the same capability. If one person is away or we lose one person, we’ve got someone else that stands behind them.”