The Legal Elite survey was introduced by WA Business News to highlight and champion the State’s top legal practitioners, as Mark Beyer reports.
WHILE some national trade publications undertake exercises similar to WA Business News’ Legal Elite, the results are inevitably dominated by big names in Sydney and Melbourne.
This survey, which will be an annual feature in WA Business News, provided an opportunity for Western Australian lawyers to nominate peers and colleagues here in the west.
It attracted a large number of nominations from a wide cross-section of lawyers and law firms.
Two notable trends emerged from the results of the survey.
First, the law is clearly a man’s game. Only a handful of women featured in the nominations and there was just one female winner – Freehills senior associate Gayle McGarry, in the M&A category.
Second, the winners were evenly split between lawyers at the big national firms and others who have moved on to smaller, boutique practices.
Without exception, these lawyers have proved themselves at the big firms and reached a point where they wanted more control over their working lives and a lifestyle balance they could not achieve at a national firm.
Putting it bluntly, they regard national firms as Sydney-centric firms that are dominated by managers rather than lawyers.
Among the big firms the main winners were Freehills and Mallesons Stephen Jaques.
Freehills had three winners in Gayle McGarry (M&A), Tony van Merwyk (planning) and Tony Joyner (intellectual property).
Mallesons had two winners in Chris Stevenson (Native Title) and Robert Lilburne (industrial relations).
A pleasing aspect of the voting process was that all results were determined by nominations from lawyers at other firms.
While lawyers were able to nominate colleagues at their own firm, these nominations were given a lower weighting than external nominations.
In practice, the external nominations were decisive in every category.
Results were not declared in three categories, one of which, surprisingly, was commercial litigation. This category attracted a large number of nominations but they were evenly spread across 30 different lawyers.
None of these individuals attracted sufficient support to emerge a clear winner.
Legal Elite Winners
Barrister: Malcolm McCusker
Criminal Law: Robert Mazza
M&A: Neil Fearis, Gayle McGarry & Mark Paganin
Property Law: Ted Sharp
Mining Law: Michael Hunt
Native Title: Chris Stevenson
Tax Law: Robert Sceales
Insolvency: Lee Christensen
IR Law: Robert Lilburne
Banking/Finance: Paul Wright
Environment: Tony van Merwyk
Int. Property: Tony Joyner