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Gradual move to integration

THE national integration of Perth’s law firms has been occurring gradually for more than two decades, but has accelerated rapidly over recent years.

Perth’s largest law firm, Freehills, was among the first to move towards a national structure, but it took more than 20 years before it completed the process.

It lays claim to having instigated Australia’s first national law partnership in 1979, when Perth firm Muir Williams Nicholson (as Freehills was known locally) signed an agreement with Sydney firm Freehill Hollingdale & Page.

Around the same time, another major Perth firm, Parker & Parker, took a different tack.

It teamed up with Sydney firm Allen Allen & Hemsley to jointly establish an office in London, targeting work linked to the North West Shelf gas project.

The venture extended to New York before being superceded by the establishment in the mid-1980s of the Australian Legal Group.

This was Australia’s first truly national federation of law firms, including Parker & Parker in Perth, Allens in Sydney, Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks in Melbourne, and others in Brisbane and Canberra.

Freehill Hollingdale & Page also established a national federation in the mid 1980s, and took the extra step of rebranding each participating firm so they all traded under one name.

In 1997, the local office of Freehill Hollingdale & Page merged with Parker & Parker to entrench its position as Perth’s largest law firm. Three years later, in 2000, the firm adopted its current name of Freehills to mark the change from a federation to full national integration.

The venerable Perth firm Stone James, which commenced trading way back in 1832, was far more decisive in its move to full integration.

In 1982 it merged with Sydney firm Stephen Jaques & Stephen and traded for a period as Stephen Jaques Stone James.

That was followed in 1987 by a merger with Melbourne firm Mallesons, at which time the current name Mallesons Stephen Jaques was adopted.

Blake Dawson Waldron was another early mover, having traded as a fully integrated national partnership since 1988.

Neal Fearis, currently a partner at West Perth firm Fearis Salter Power Shervington, established Blake’s local office.

He moved to Perth in 1988 after Blake acquired mining law firm Collison & Hunt and instigated a period of growth that is still continuing.

Phillips Fox and Minter Ellison established national links many years ago but in contrast to most of their big competitors they are not financially integrated.

The Perth office of Phillips Fox (originally Lavan Solomon) has been trading under the national name since 1985.

While the interstate offices of Phillips Fox have been fully integrated since 1999, the Perth office has so far resisted the trend, remaining financially independent apart from paying a franchise fee to the national group.

The Perth office of Minter Ellison (originally Northmore Hale Davey & Leake) joined the national group in 1990.

The group is operationally integrated across Australia and New Zealand but the Perth (and Adelaide) office remains financially independent.

A much bigger exception to the national integration trend is Jackson McDonald, which remains completely independent.

All of Perth’s other big 10 law firms are fully integrated nationally.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth, formed in 1991, has been a financially integrated national partnership since 1999.

Clayton Utz came to Perth in 1992, when local firm Robinson Cox adopted the national name.

It completed the transition from a federation to full financial integration in 2000.

Deacons has been through several changes along the way to full integration, trading as Warren Harrison originally, Sly & Weigall since 1988 and Deacons Graham & James since 1995

Its interstate offices integrated in 2000, when the firm adopted its current name, followed by the Perth office on July 1 2001.

Allens Arthur Robinson also completed financial integration on July 1 2001

Its Perth office was a start-up operation, having opened in 1997 under the name Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks.

It adopted its current name in July 2001, when Hedderwicks merged with Sydney firm Allen Allen & Hemsley to form a single national practice under the name Allens Arthur Robinson.

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