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Freehills in the midst of change

DURING his seven years as Freehill Hollingdale and Page managing partner, Peter Mansell has seen the firm go from strength to strength.

“The past five years have been very buoyant,” Mr Mansell said.

In 1997 the firm merged with fellow law firm Parker and Parker.

“We’ve seen growth of more than 30 per cent in the two years since we’ve merged,” Mr Mansell said.

He said the two firms merged because it was thought being “big and strong in every area of corporate WA” was important.

“We aspired to be either first or second in every area in which we practise,” Mr Mansell said.

“I think we’ve achieved that.”

Mr Mansell said the firm now had 200 lawyers in Perth.

“With that depth of resource we’re doing the sort of transactions that would previously have gone to the eastern States,” he said.

Freehill Hollingdale and Page is in the process of becoming a national entity instead of three separate State-based firms.

It will also change its name to the “friendlier” Freehills from 1 July.

Mr Mansell said one of his big hopes would be to locate the firm in one building.

Currently, some staff work out of the old AMP building and others from Australia Place.

Ongoing litigation in the Bell Resources case contributed to keeping the pre-merger arrangement of different premises.

At the time of the merger, Parker & Parker were handling one side of the case and Freehills the other.

Mr Mansell said Freehills would be ranked about twenty-fifth in international terms.

“Australian law firms are very big in international terms,” he said.

“I think, in terms of quality, the Australian firms are up there.

“As a result of that, we’re fertile ground for overseas firms – particularly UK ones – to poach our lawyers.

“However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because they come back after a couple of years with new skills.”

Mr Mansell said the multi-disciplinary movement, where accountants move into legal areas and vice versa, did not yet affect Freehills.

“No doubt it will in the future,” he said.

“PriceWaterhouse Coopers has made a move into the legal area as have KPMG, Ernst & Young and Arthur Andersen.

“There will be a lot of competition between traditional law firms and the ‘new’ law firms.

“I think the trick is for traditional law firms to chase high value work work such as project financing, takeovers, corporate acquisitions and high value property work.”

Mr Mansell said, because his father was a lawyer, the talk around the family dinner table in Johannesburg, South Africa had prepared him for the legal environment.

He chose to bring his family to WA to leave behind the political troubles plaguing his homeland.

Mr Mansell said he chose Australia because he felt people from the southern hemisphere did not take well to setting up a home in the northern hemisphere.

He said his role with Freehills prevented him from practising law.

“I do and don’t miss practising,” Mr Mansell said.

“The do side is that it is exciting to be involved in the cut and thrust of commercial transactions. I don’t do that as much as I used to.

“However, I don’t miss it because I now work in a world of less detail. I enjoy running a business and this is a big business.”

Besides his work with Freehills, Mr Mansell is a trustee for United Way.

“I’ve also done bits and pieces for other charities,” he said.

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