09/09/2010 - 00:00

Discrete service helps boutique survivors

09/09/2010 - 00:00


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STEPHEN Edwards looks back on the past decade and tries to put his finger on the key reason for his two-partner law firm's success.

Discrete service helps boutique survivors

STEPHEN Edwards looks back on the past decade and tries to put his finger on the key reason for his two-partner law firm's success.

Edwards Wallace is a specialist media practice with an employment law sideline, which dominates a sector of the commercial world in Western Australia.

If anyone sues a newspaper or television station in WA, chances are Mr Edwards or his partner Carmel Galati will be representing the media organisation.

It is one of a select group of specialist firms that appears to have flourished in Perth in particular areas of expertise.

There is a host of such firms in Perth. At the top end, by size, are the corporate players like Steinepreis Paganin and Blakiston & Crabb, which at 28 and 30 legal professionals respectively are big enough to be ranked in the top 20 in WA Business News Book of Lists law firms list.

There are some that have remained much smaller.

Many of these firms were started in the late 1990s as the bigger WA practices formally merged with their east coast counterparts to become national businesses. Not everyone fits that mould, though; McLeods was established in 1980, while Ian Cochrane and Michael Lishman put their shingle up just four years ago.

Some have also disappeared. Pullinger Readhead became Pullinger Readhead Lucas before merging with Michael Whyte & Co to become Allion Legal. Franklyn Legal merged with mid-tier national firm Middletons before its founder Rob Franklyn moved back into the bigger end of town this year with Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

There is also a whole host of other boutique firms that focus on litigation. Many of these, like their specialist counterparts, are headed by ex-partners of big firms.

Mr Edwards sees the nationalisation of law practices in the late 1990s, which came with new pressures, as the era that really prompted key partners to leap out and start their own businesses.

“That was the beginning of the concept of specialist boutique firms because a lot of partners did not view that change with any relish,” he said.

Mr Edwards was a 25-year veteran of Minter Ellison, and its predecessor Northmore Hale Davey & Leake, and had been chairman of partners before he quit. He also had media in the blood and was a recognised specialist servicing The Sunday Times.

His moment may have been driven by the changing law world 10 years ago but he had some luck along the way. The departure of Freehills media lawyer Bill Groves opened the opportunity to tender for the defamation work at daily newspaper The West Australian, a contract Edwards Wallace won by coaxing Ms Galati away from Freehills.

Mr Edwards is keenly interested in what makes boutiques like his last.

“It seems to work in areas that are truly discrete,” he said.

“In our case it works because our work is a little unorthodox.

“We get work at 8 o’clock at night and on the weekends because that is when they (clients) publish.

“All the big firms want our work so we have to stay on top of our game.”


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