23/04/2009 - 00:00

Perth teams taking a lead role in major plays

23/04/2009 - 00:00

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A NUMBER of top tier law firms agree that Perth has become a significant player on the international stage, regularly leading globally assembled legal teams on large international transactions.

A NUMBER of top tier law firms agree that Perth has become a significant player on the international stage, regularly leading globally assembled legal teams on large international transactions.

Historically, Perth lawyers have been relegated to support roles, even for mining and resources deals in Western Australia.

Increasingly, however, there has been a shift towards Perth-based law firms taking the lead on such transactions.

Allens Arthur Robinson is one firm to have contributed to this trend.

Allens managing partner Nic Tole believes the hard work and personal sacrifice he and his peers have made during the past 30 years has helped achieve this outcome for the state's legal fraternity.

"I guess the significant thing for me has been, as we become more involved in international transactions, is how much we can bring to them, particularly when they're in an area like resources," Mr Tole told WA Business News.

"The experience we've acquired in Perth, and Australia more generally, in terms of commercial transactions, has stood us in very good stead to bring off very large transactions."

Mr Tole cites Allens' recent work in Hong Kong on the Chinalco transaction for Rio Tinto as a prime example of a Perth firm leading an international transaction.

"Allens were the lead lawyers for Rio Tinto on that transaction, and we were able to negotiate there on the ground," Mr Tole said.

"We were able to ... ensure the people there were the most appropriate for the job.

"Whether it be from Perth or a tax expert from Melbourne or another resources partner from Melbourne or Brisbane or wherever, we brought together the most suitable team for the client."

Fellow Allens partner Tim Lester described the trend as an evolutionary process.

"The size of the transactions that happen in Perth and those that are in the pipeline are growing," Mr Lester said.

"Before, you would look at engaging international council based in far away lands such as London.

"If you cast your mind back 10 years, you wouldn't have seen Perth offices of law firms actually doing that [leading transactions], but we are now in a fortunate position to do that."

Allens recent work for ConocoPhillips and AngloGold, as well as the assistance provided to Rio Tinto for the Vale transaction, are further examples.

Mr Tole recalls the early 1980s when firms from the US and UK were coming to WA to lend their expertise in electricity or gas.

"Yes, it's 25 years on but it has changed quite considerably, to the point where in a particular area, like resources and others, financing is the same and is comparable, where an Australian firm can deliver that product," Mr Tole said.

Blake Dawson practice leader Perth, Leigh Warnick, said his firm had taken the lead role with some North Asian clients looking to invest in WA.

"I can certainly vouch for the fact that, where our expertise is involved, we are closely involved in deals," Mr Warnick said.

It's a sentiment echoed by fellow top tier lawyer, Freehills managing partner Jason Ricketts.

"We provide considerable support to our Singapore office and we are active on many transactions in the South-East Asian region as well as in other parts of the world," Mr Ricketts said.

Lavan Legal managing partner Greg Gaunt also believes there's been a distinct shift towards Perth firms.

"Some of the stuff that's being done here is absolutely first class," Mr Gaunt said.

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