03/10/2012 - 00:14

Perth link in Freehills merger management

03/10/2012 - 00:14

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LINKAGE: Herbert Smith Freehills Australian managing partner Jason Ricketts (right) with newly appointed Perth managing partner Tony Joyner. Photo: Grant Currall

THE international merger of law firms Freehills and Herbert Smith is turning out to be more simple, according to joint chief executive Gavin Bell.

Detailed planning for the merger, which took effect this week, had confirmed the initial view that the two firms would be a good fit.

“A key factor was how successfully we could integrate,” Mr Bell told WA Business News.

“We want the firm to look consistent worldwide,” he added. “From a client’s point of view, it will be one firm.

“But we’re still paddling very fast under the water. More internal integration needs to be completed.”

Mr Bell said one of the factors Freehills and Herbert Smith looked at early was the potential for conflict between their clients.

“The opposite has been the case,” he said. “The number of common clients has been more than we had expected.”

A notable example is Woodside, which was already a client of both firms.

Mr Bell said the merged firm would be able to offer a broader suite of services to shared clients.

“We have more depth than other international firms in Perth can offer,” he claimed.

The merged firm will be overseen by a ‘global council’, which includes newly appointed Perth managing partner Tony Joyner.

The council has four members who hail from Perth, including Mr Bell, who completed his schooling at Marist Brothers in Subiaco before moving interstate.

Another member is Sydney-based corporate lawyer A1 Donald, who started his legal career in Perth and retains a keen interest in the west as a commissioner on the board of Tourism WA.

The fourth Perth connection is Rebecca Maslen-Stannage, who also started her career in Perth before moving to Sydney, where she is rated one of the top corporate lawyers, having worked on the restructuring of property group Centro.

Another WA lawyer with a prominent role in the merged firm is former Perth managing partner Jason Ricketts, who has been promoted to a new role as Australian managing partner.

Still based in Perth, Mr Ricketts is also a member of the merged firm’s global executive committee.

After attending the inaugural meeting of members of the governing council in Paris last month, Mr Joyner said his international counterparts remained positive about opportunities in Australia.

“The people overseas think we are very lucky to be here,” he said.

Mr Joyner described recent development in the mining sector, including projects being postponed, as a stutter, saying the firm was not seeing a slowdown in work opportunities.

Herbert Smith’s entry to the Australian market follows the opening of offices in Sydney and Perth by ‘magic circle’ firms Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance.

Linklaters has partnered with Allens, while UK-based firms Ashurst and Norton Rose have absorbed Australian firms Blake Dawson and Deacons.

Another variation on the international theme was Mallesons partnering with Chinese firm King & Wood.

Freehills - which for many years has been Perth’s largest law firm, according to the WA Business News Book of Lists - and Herbert Smith have gone a step further than most others by opting for a full equity merger, with a single profit pool from day one.

Mr Bell said this strategy had not affected billing rates, which would continue to be set by the market in each region and sector where the merged firm operated.

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