EFFECTS of Freehills’ decision to roll over parts of its tax division into a multi-disciplinary practice (MDP) took only 24 hours to manifest, with head partner Geoff Mann tendering his resignation the following day.
The indirect tax specialist last week commenced duties with top-tier rival Blake Dawson Waldron, ironically the firm from which he lured a number of senior lawyers across to Freehills over the past seven years.
While other factors, which he declined to elaborate on, played a role in the split, Melbourne-based Mann said the MDP decision was the “final straw”.
“It brought things to a head and I resigned the day after the announcement was made in mid-May,” he said. “It just isn’t for me.”
“I don’t know that the MDP model is entirely necessary. Different clients are not adverse to having different people advise them.”
Freehills CEO Peter Hay said all partners were thoroughly consulted during the decision-making process, undertaken during last year’s strategic review of the firm’s operations.
“It’s not as if this came from on high from senior management,” Hay said. “It would not have happened with out the consent and enthusiasm of our partners.”
Independence concerns that have engulfed MDPs since the Enron and Andersen collapses did not play a significant role in Mann’s thinking at the time he decided to jump ship.
“I’m more interested in working for a law firm and being part of a seamless legal service,” he said. “In accounting firms you have to specialise in specific areas and not cater for the full range of indirect taxes.”
Furthermore, Mann actually likes working side-by-side with other lawyers.
“I am a lawyer with general legal skills and it’s nice to be able to interact with property lawyers and finance lawyers. I like the opportunity to have legal expertise close at hand and to drawn on it. There is no MDP that I know of that boasts legal expertise up to the same scale as that of large law firms.”
Thus far, no others, including those who made the shift from Blakes to Freehills, have followed Mann back to their former employer. He admits the raids “disrupted” Blakes’ tax practice some years ago and interestingly enough the chance to lead the rebuilding process attracts him immensely.
Mann presently works in what he describes as a “top-heavy group” — two partners, three senior associates and one junior lawyer.
“It’s probably not the ideal model at the moment and we need to bring through more junior lawyers and expand the numbers. The leverage here is a bit lower than that in a normal law firm,” said Mann, who believed the best ratio was three lawyers per partner.
As he did at Freehills, Mann will focus on indirect tax advice, predominantly GST along with stamp duty, land and employee benefits tax. He previously advised Connex on the finance of its rolling stock and was instrumental in assisting Melbourne’s Eureka Tower and the QV shopping precinct in their project construction financing.
Mann, the Property Council of Australia’s current chairman, confirmed that some clients had indicated they would prefer to continue to refer work to him in the wake of the move.
… And he’s not the only one to go
WHILE Blake Dawson Waldron scored themselves a major coup by snaring the services of Freehills tax head, Geoff Mann, the appointment was accompanied with news of senior departures from both firms.
Coinciding closely on the heels of the loss of Sydney corporate partners John Arthur and Sheila McGregor to Gilbert + Tobin, Freehills also bid farewell to Perth pair John Syminton and Richard Price.
Syminton is understood to have commenced his own practice, while Price will take an extended holiday from the law.
Also in Perth, 13 year Blakes stalwart Michael Lurie last week announced his retirement from top-tier partnership. Like Syminton, the property, finance and commercial lawyer will leave to run his own outfit.