08/06/2004 - 22:00

Evans leads the field in commercial litigation

08/06/2004 - 22:00

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COMMERCIAL litigation is a term falling out of favour with many lawyers, who prefer the more diplomatic term ‘dispute resolution’.

Evans leads the field in commercial litigation

COMMERCIAL litigation is a term falling out of favour with many lawyers, who prefer the more diplomatic term ‘dispute resolution’.

Freehills partner Paul Evans, ranked as Perth’s top commercial litigator, isn’t fussed by labels.

He has certainly observed a dramatic shift in the corporate sector’s tactics during his 20-year legal career, however.

His move into the field of commercial litigation in the late 1980s coincided with a wave of litigious takeover battles in Perth.

“It was all litigation,” Mr Evans said.

He recalled the maxim of legendary 1980s lawyer Aleco Vrisakis, whose client list included the late Laurie Connell – “get standing and sue”.

Mr Evans’ major cases at the time included acting for Bell Group in its defence against Brierley Investments and the late Robert Holmes a Court’s subsequent takeover of Sherwin Pastoral Company.

He said this was a period when takeover law was relatively new and many aspects had not been tested.

The introduction and refinement of the Takeovers Panel has created a very different environment, with the focus shifting to negotiation of a commercial settlement.

“At the end of the day we are there to go to court, but most of the time we don’t do that because we settle,” Mr Evans told WA Business News

He said a big part of his role was to help define the issues and the different courses of action the client may pursue.

“We establish what you could win and what you could lose,” he said.

“At the end of the day it’s all to do with what the client wants.”

As well as mergers and acquisitions, Mr Evans has worked on a range of general commercial disputes. A notable case was his role as principal solicitor to the Woodside joint venture when it recovered losses flowing from the collapse of the Goodwyn A offshore platform piling system.

The claim, worth $320 million, was then the largest of its type.

Mr Evans said Woodside settled with the insurers on very favourable terms, without ever issuing a writ.

However, he did prepare two files the size of telephone books running through all of the issues.

“One of the joys of working with engineers is that they use good planning, which is anathema to many people.”

Trade practices law has become a significant part of Mr Evans’ practice, driven in part by the aggressive tactics of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

“They go through cycles,” he said.

“They went through a phase of taking on all comers and had a fair bit of success.”

Mr Evans noted that the retirement of ACCC boss Alan Fels and his replacement by former business executive Graeme Samuel had only partly softened its approach.

“There is, frankly, protectionism creeping into some of the trade practices law,” Mr Evans said in relation to moves to protect small business from larger competitors.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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