AFTER simultaneously poaching two heads of practice and another senior lawyer last week, Corrs Chambers Westgarth is well on the way to earning itself the tag of 2003’s most aggressive lateral hirer.
So far this year no less than five partners have jumped ship to join Corrs, but the national firm could be expected to rate its most recent haul the most spectacular yet.
Deacons and Clayton Utz both suffered heavily, losing Richard Lewis and Michael Harrison — respective former heads of M&A and transport — while Minter Ellison also conceded property specialist Matthew Seymour.
All three come on board as partners in Sydney; Lewis and Harrison in corporate advisory and Seymour with property and infrastructure.
Arguably the most noteworthy of the trio is Lewis. Renowned for establishing Deacons’ private equity group, Lewis will now head the operations of his former rivals from the corresponding Corrs team.
Speaking with Lawyers Weekly during his first day on the job, the English-trained solicitor said a new challenge beckoned after spending his entire 15-year career in Australia with Deacons.
“Corrs has made great strides over the last couple of years and I don’t think the market [other lawyers] realise how well they are doing,” he said.
Specialising in corporate, technology and government work, Lewis acts as a liaison partner for a number of private-sector entities in relation to commercial agreements. Major corporations he assisted while at Deacons include Effem Foods, Nissan, Applied Chemicals, Alliant Energy Australia and Sportsbrand Media Group.
He also advises a number of leading private equity fund managers on leveraged buyouts and later stage expansion capital, including Champ — a common client of both Corrs and Deacons.
Lewis believes it was perhaps through that link that Corrs decided to make an approach for his services. With private equity quickly gaining favour in the market and many law firms keen not to miss the boat, Lewis was also the subject of other advances of late.
Boasting a larger and more-established team, but at the same time a smaller headcount overall, won Corrs the day, he said.
“Culture was an issue for me and Deacons had a very friendly, family feel,” he said. “Of all the firms I spoke to, some of which were larger, Corrs appeared to have the closest culture to Deacons. Corrs is probably a bit smaller [than Deacons] as well and I think that size and culture go hand-in-hand. It’s difficult top retain that ‘family’ feeling the larger you get.”
Having kicked off the private equity practice at Deacons, Lewis revealed that other options offered him the challenge to build a practice all over again elsewhere.
“Other firms are keen to get a private equity presence, but the team and clients that were already on board here at Corrs were attractive,” he said.
While no other Deacons lawyers accompanied Lewis across, Harrison could be excused for feeling right at home with Corrs. Already this year two of his former workmates from CU — Adam Handley and Shawn Wytenburg — made the identical switch, as did tobacco giant British American Tobacco (BAT).