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Law’s insurance sting

THE collapse of HIH, national mergers and a fickle market have resulted in a rapid re-arrangement of Perth’s insurance lawyers. Any firm directory that is more than a few months old now would be of little use.

Directly or indirectly, the HIH collapse stung most law firms with an insurance practice. Large amounts of unpaid work in progress, combined with an instant evaporation of work, left some insurance practices pondering their future. Phillips Fox retrenched small teams, while other firms shifted focus.

Historically, national mergers of Perth firms have been synonymous with a reduced emphasis on insurance.

Tight profit margins on insurance work is not seen by some Sydney powerbases as synonymous with large commercially based firms. Following the trend Mallesons set after its merger, Minters, Freehills and Clayton Utz have all significantly reduced their insurance practices.

Freehills partners Steven Williams and Debra Colvin left to join boutique firm Pynt McKay, while Clayton Utz partner Ian Hennessy has joined Hotchkin Hanley. Allens Arthur Robison’s (AAR) is the one of the few national firms to buck this trend.

Self titled as “Western Australia’s fastest growing law firm”, AAR recruited former Freehills partner Jenny Thornton and former barrister and Clayton Utz partner, David Martino.

“The addition of both Jenny and David highlights our belief that WA business opportunities will continue to grow,” AAR Perth prac-tice director Nic Tole said.

Blake Dawson Waldron also has tended to increase its insurance practice against the trend. Solicitors Andrew Harman and Marie Wood, formerly of Clayton Utz, and Gemma McGrath from Minters all left to join the team lead by Michael Young.

Boutique insurance firms have sprung up in the wake of the merger fallouts. Choosing to work in a smaller, more relaxed environment has its attractions.

Sean Mullins, Matt Handcock and several other people from Minters left the firm late in 2000 and established Mullins Handcock.

“A boutique firm offers an enjoyable working environment with the same calibre people and same calibre clients as a big firm, without the bureaucratic processes,” Mr Hand-cock said.

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