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Lawyers maintain global focus

FOR corporate lawyers Geoffrey Grice and Rupert Lewi, the return to Perth has been smoother than for many other professionals.

They are in the fortunate position of being able to largely continue the same kind of work they were handling overseas.

Mr Grice and Mr Lewi are currently working on some of Australia’s biggest energy and infrastructure projects.

They are also continuing with international work in the Asia Pacific, drawing on their experience and contacts in the region.

Mr Lewi, who joined Blake Dawson Waldron early this year, said the transition back to Perth after 13 years in Sydney and Tokyo had been unexpectedly easy.

“I’ve been quite surprised at the volume of work,” he said. “It has developed much more quickly than I had expected.”

He has even had old clients in Tokyo tracking him down in Perth.

“A Japanese company that is developing a project in WA tried to contact me in Tokyo. They didn’t realise I had left,” Mr Lewi told WA Business News.

“When they found I was in Perth, they were delighted, so they have engaged me to work on the project.”

Mr Grice, a partner at Clayton Utz, also has been pleasantly surprised by the smooth transition.

“Everyone kept pushing me to move to Sydney, saying that’s where the action is and that Perth has nothing to offer,” Mr Grice said.

“They couldn’t be more wrong. It has exceeded my wildest expectations.”

Mr Grice spent a total of 23 years out of Perth, studying or working in Cambridge, London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo before his return in mid 2002.

He returned to Perth for the lifestyle but also wanted to find appropriate and challenging work after the high-level positions he held internationally, which included partnerships with law firms White & Case and Latham & Watkins.

Mr Grice was also director, business development and legal affairs, for the Asia Pacific Region for telco Cable and Wireless plc, where he was involved in a $US600 million acquisition that was the first successful ‘hostile takeover’ by a foreign company in Japan.

During his time overseas, Mr Grice dealt with Clayton Utz on a number of matters.

Mr Grice was also attracted by Clayton Utz’s experience in project finance, particularly for the energy and resources sectors, which is a major focus for its Perth office.

While Mr Grice has specific experience in the energy sector, he also believes many of the generic skills he learnt overseas are applicable in Australia.

“Any large project has the same constituent features. You are dealing with investors, banks, contractors, and so on, and many of the same issues arise,” he said.

One of his goals when he returned to Perth was to be involved in substantial projects in WA and Asia – and to disprove the boast of Sydney and Melbourne lawyers who claim all of the big deals get done in their cities.

So far Mr Grice has managed to achieve these goals.

He is representing Alcoa in its negotiations with Alinta over the development of a co-generation power station at Alcoa’s Pinjarra alumina refinery.

He is also advising the Hope Downs joint venture, owned by Kumba of South Africa and Hancock Prospecting, on the planned development of a major iron ore project in the Pilbara.

And last year he advised Multiplex in its negotiations for the construction of a subsea LNG pipeline for the Bayu Undan project in the Timor Sea.

Mr Grice is also playing a part in Clayton Utz’s plan to build its business in Asia.

“There is a huge amount of opportunity there,” Mr Grice said

He believes the skills and experience of Australian lawyers are highly marketable in Asia. 

“The quality of lawyers in WA is extremely high,” Mr Grice said.

“They are well trained and deal with very complex issues and do so in a meticulous way.”

Like Mr Grice, Mr Lewi also had a lengthy stint in Tokyo, where he worked for a major trading company before becoming a partner at Lovells, the world’s eighth largest law firm. Once he had decided to return to Australia, the biggest surprise was that he found himself back in his home town of Perth.

“I hadn’t initially considered Perth,” Mr Lewi said.

“I didn’t think there would be the right opportunities.”

Mr Lewi was attracted to national law firm Blake Dawson Waldron because of the work it does for Japanese companies active in Australia.

“Blakes has the most active Japan practice of all the Australian firms,” he said.

That, combined with the energy and resources focus of the Perth office, brought him back to his home town.

Most of Mr Lewi’s work continues to be for Japanese companies involved in international energy, oil and gas and resource projects.

These include a major M&A transaction in the resources sector, an oil and gas project, a power station in the Philippines and financing for LNG tankers to transport LNG from the North West Shelf to Guangdong in China.

“My work in Japan was for Japanese companies doing international projects,” Mr Lewi said.

“I got to know the Japanese companies quite well, and I was able to offer the type of service and knowledge they expected.”

Mr Lewi is aiming to broaden his work to include project finance work for Australian companies.

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