Squire Sanders will look to compete with local firms across all areas of commercial law when it opens in Perth.
Squire Sanders global CEO Jim Maiwurm spoke to Lawyers Weekly after it was announced yesterday (17 August) that the global partnership of the firm had voted to approve its entry into Australia in October. Maiwurm said Squire Sanders would not be targeting "niche" areas in Australia, a strategy that is different from global rivals Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy. The two English Magic Circle firms have deliberately targeted high-end M&A and banking and finance work.
"We are not niche players when we go into places around the world," said Maiwurm. "The Western Australian client base was attractive to us, and the fact that the folks here had a strong, diversified, full-service practice was particularly attractive to us."
Maiwurm added that the increasing economic clout of the Asia-Pacific region was the catalyst for the firm to open an office in Australia.
Squire Sanders has secured 14 of the 19 Minter Ellison partners practicing in Perth. While the Perth arm of Minters traded under the firm's name, it was not a fully integrated part of the firm.
Maiwurm said that while he had "conversations" with other firms about a possible merger, it was the size of the Minters partnership in Perth that was particularly attractive to him.
"We would not have been interested in opening with six partners in Perth," said Maiwurm. "We wanted to have a position that was real, where we were a vital part of the community, and [Minters' Perth practice] made sense for our colleagues and our client base."
The current managing partner of Minters in Perth, John Poulsen, will assume the mantle of the Squire Sanders Australia managing partner in October.
He said that even though he and the other defecting partners had formal discussions with Minters chief executive John Weber about formal integration with the Minters network, the changing nature of the Australian legal market had meant that the prospect of joining a global form became an enticing one.
"During the course of those discussions with Minters, the legal world was changing," said Poulsen. "DLA Piper, Norton Rose, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy had all entered the local market, and it really made us stop and think about not just the current generation at the firm, but also the future generation.
"That made us think global, not national."
In January this year, Squire Sanders merged with UK firm Hammonds, putting it inside the top 25 global law firms by headcount. The firm currently has 36 global offices, which are largely based in the USA and Europe. In the Asia-Pacific, it has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Maiwurm said that while the firm would open in Australia in October, no official start date had been set.
Minters will remain in Perth, with chief executive partner John Weber telling Lawyers Weekly earlier this month that he hoped the four remaining Perth partners would be joined by up to half-a-dozen more partners to open an integrated office in October.
*See Lawyers Weekly 549 for more on this story featuring an extended interview with Jim Maiwurm and John Poulsen