The merger between Blake Dawson and Ashurst has its genesis in a lunch on the Mornington Peninsula.
In early January, the London-based senior Ashurst partner Charlie Geffen was on holidays in Victoria and met Blake Dawson chairman Mary Padbury for lunch.
"We had an expansive discussion at lunch," Padbury told Lawyers Weekly. "From that, the senior leadership of both firms got involved and we formed a working group, with lots of discussions and visits both ways until the merger was announced."
Padbury said Blakes only talked to Ashurst about a merger after that initial lunch with Geffen.
Under the terms of the merger, Blake Dawson will trade under the Ashurst name in Australia and the Asia-Pacific from March 2012, with a full merger occurring by 2014. That means existing jurisdictions in which both firms operate, such as Tokyo, the Blakes staff will move across to the Ashurst offices and in Singapore, the Blakes staff will move to new offices with their Ashurst counterparts next year.
Blake Dawson managing partner John Carrington told Lawyers Weekly that the decision to stagger the merger was based, in part, on the desirability to move to a shared partnership profit pool.
"The complexity of the merger meant that was the best option," said Carrington. "We operate in five jurisdictions outside Australia and they operate in 15 different jurisdictions outside of London.
"This means that a number of different regulatory and tax issues needed to be addressed, and we are also aiming to have a single partnership profit pool."
On current numbers, the merged firm will have 442 partners, of which the majority (230) will come from Ashurst.
Ashurst also brings a bigger war-chest to the table, with revenue of just over $460 million spread across its 16 offices, while Blake Dawson has revenue of $380 million from its 10 offices.
Despite entering the Australian market with a radically different model to its UK rivals Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, which cherry-picked partners from established Australian firms, Ashurst will also be targeting the upper-end of the commercial legal market.
Blakes, whose powerbase largely comes from energy and resources work with a client list that includes BHP, will be able to utilise the financial services expertise of Ashurst.
High-end M&A, dispute resolution and projects and infrastructure work will also be a focus for the merged firm.
"Globalisation is occurring at such a rate that there will be a number of premium global firms and we wanted to build on that," said Padbury.
Ashurst's Geoffrey Green, a partner of the firm since 1979, has been appointed as chair of the combined Asian business.
Green will be based in Hong Kong.
John Carrington will carry over his role at Blakes to be the Australian managing partner of Ashurst.