Global legal firms are coming

Globalisation in the legal industry is already happening says Minter Ellison national managing partner Phil Clark.

Mr Clark told a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia lunch that businesses were becoming global and smart lawyers were following their clients.

“The leaders in globalisation are the UK ‘Golden Circle’ firms.

“They have all but annihilated the independent firms in Europe.

“The sort of rape and pillage they’ve been able to carry out in Europe makes the work of the goths and the visigoths seem like a Sunday picnic.”

Mr Clark said such firms were yet to come to Australia and that was both good and bad news.

“It is good because the market is seen as too hard to crack thanks to the firms that are here. It’s bad news because Australia is also seen as a thin, irrelevant market.”

Mr Clark said Australia had three to five years to sort itself out before the Australian market became relevant.

He said multi-disciplinary practices, accounting and consulting firms such as PriceWaterhouse-Coopers and Arthur Andersen should not be underrated.

“Eventually they will become the proprietors and affiliates of very large law firms,” Mr Clark said.

Mr Clark said the deregulation process had to be continued if the legal profession was to remain healthy.

“We will see the incorporation of legal practices,” he said.

“It’s not about limiting our liability. It’s about providing business structures to invest in what we need to get the job done. We need to set up capital bases.

“If a client came to us and said he was going to set up a $200 million business with no capital we’d say he was crazy.

“Yet that’s what we, as law firms, try to do.”

Mr Clark said the Australian legal market was stratified but there was still room for niche, boutique firms.

“The consensus is that about six firms have drawn away from the pack,” he said.

“But there will always be room at the top for the little guy with something special to offer.”

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