ALB Guide: Energy & Resources 2009 is the latest in an exciting series of detailed insights into specific practice areas and the leading firms and lawyers operating within them. By combining specific new research (among client companies, peers and other sources) with the ALB database and third-party market information, ALB Guides arrive at lists of 'leading firms' and 'recommended firms' as well as 'leading lawyers' in each practice area covered.
State of the market
The volatile market and lack of business confidence over the past year have prompted Chinese and other overseas companies to wind back their appetite for Australian resources, particularly in iron ore and aluminium industries that have seen a significant drop in stock prices, and fall in demand for legal services.
Mine expansion contracts have been put on hold, and some major projects have been downsized. This has brought some dispute resolution work, since contractual obligations agreed to during boom times were no longer commercially viable. However, the level of litigation has not been the same as in previous recessions due to clients opting for quick settlements, rather than lengthy disputes.
Mallesons Stephen Jaques partner Alan Murray says that despite the difficulties of the past 12 months, there are signs of optimism and activity in the energy and resources sector. For example, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have announced their Pilbara iron ore joint venture, and there is considerable activity between smaller companies and international players looking to get additional iron ore to market. “The energy and resources sector has shown real resilience in a difficult period and, given the continuing demand for Australia's products, is very well-placed to move forward as confidence returns,” adds Murray.
Freehills partner Jason Ricketts claims that his practice has not seen any reduction in revenue; the firm has topped last year’s figures, and points to his work on Argyle Diamond Mines’ proposed underground expansion. “There are a lot of resources project still going forward and a lot of mining companies that are cashed-up, and the government has increased development spending,” he says.
The downturn has also not discouraged law firms from opening new Perth offices. Middletons, for example, has been very optimistic about the Perth market and even opted to expand its staff numbers. The firm entered the WA market via a three-way merger with Perth firms Salter Power and Franklyn Legal last December. “There has certainly been some slow-down in significant large-scale M&A activity - and just the sheer volume of it - but there's still a lot of activity at the smaller end, and there will be a lot of consolidation,” says managing partner Nick Nichola.
Nichola was right on the money. Once the resources market had bottomed out Chinese companies began circling Australian resources assets. Chinalco bidded A$30m to raise its stake in Rio Tinto, Yanzhou Coal made an A$3.5bn bid for Felix Resources, and Fortescue Metals struck a US$6bn (A$7.3bn) iron ore deal with China Iron and Steel Association. More recently, Gorgon joint venture partner Exxon Mobil agreed to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Petro China worth A$50bn for the next 20 years. There has also been interest from other Asian countries. The Korea Gas Corporation agreed to buy LNG from Chevron for up to 20 years, which was estimated to be worth A$30bn. Rival South Korean energy company GS Caltex and Japan-based Osaka Gas and Tokyo Gas, have also signed LNG contracts worth A$70bn. “Over the last couple of months we have seen a significant increase in activity and enquiries in energy & resources. There has been a definite upswing in work in the Perth market,” says Nichola.
Cochrane Lishman is also among the more buoyant Perth firms. Partner Michael Lishman says the secret of his firm’s success has been to stick with the original plan. This approach combined with a lower leveraged model has brought the firm top-tier work at decent charge-out rates, while keeping costs down. The firm expects its business model to help keep profits up during the global recession.
Meanwhile, New Zealand firms have paid close attention to their country’s Resource Management Act, which has helped protect the country's natural resources but been criticised for obstructing important projects. Kensington Swan partner Bryan Gunderson expects the Kiwi government to amend the Act to speed up the approval process for major projects from five years to two years. “The proposed first round of changes to the Act are modest and not expected to have any impact on projects already in the pipeline. However, a second round expected early in 2010 is likely to be more ambitious,” adds Gunderson.
Gunderson expects more work to come during the transition from the old legislation to the new; he says lawyers are eagerly waiting for the Kiwi government to release framework for infrastructure investment, and how it intends to utilise public private partnerships in a wide range of projects. There are also signs from the John Key government that New Zealand’s conservation areas might be opened for resources exploration and development, particularly those involving gold.
The team at Holding Redlich were “best guys in the game” for legal aspects of iron ore, gold, oil and gas companies. The firm provided a breadth of advice at a competitive price. David Walker did a brilliant job at advising on multiple areas of law, and was so productive, quick and “clever” that he impressed the other side by getting things right in the first draft.
Gilbert + Tobin had “fantastic” staff at all levels for regulatory, cost and capital review aspects of energy. Nick Taylor and Luke Woodward had strong economic backgrounds and truly knew what was in their client’s best interests. Liza Carver was “formidable” and delivered the goods. The firm’s junior lawyers did a prompt and “fantastic” job.
Some clients said they swore by Deacons’ legal contractual and negotiation work. Ross Ramsay was often chosen by the gas industry for his savvy, specialty, and broad advice that extended to the Asian markets. Mark Waddell was thorough, commercial, and was well mannered with his clients.
Henry Davis York’s practice was talented at all-round work. James Lonie knew legislation word-for-word, and was able to draft documents and action “on the fly.”
Baker & McKenzie’s David Ryan had “first rate” responsiveness and industry knowledge for corporate, M&A and resources matters.
Piper Alderman’s Robert Pritchard was a veteran with more than 40 years’ experience.
Chang, Pistilli & Simmons’ Mark Pistilli, DLA Phillips Fox’s Geoff Taperell, Middletons’ Jennifer Mee, Atanaskovic Hartnell and Tresscox Lawyers were also recommended.
Minter Ellison was the cream of the crop in Sydney’s national top tier legal market. James Philips was “technically and tactically excellent” at leading cross-border resources deals. He pioneered new means of negotiation, and achieved client strategic and business objectives through efficient communication and a wide knowledge of rules and legislation. John Whitehouse and Patrick Holland had “unrivalled knowledge” of mining and electricity issues.
Mallesons Stephen Jaques acted on some of the most highly publicised deals. Peter Cook led the ambitious but failed Chinalco-Rio Tinto deal, Nicholas Pappas was chosen for resources-related M&A, Dominic Bortoluzzi was picked for energy, and Sharon Henrick was the regulatory and competition guru.
Blake Dawson was chosen for joint venture and M&A work. Ian Williams had extensive experience representing joint venture parties, Stephen Menzies was picked for resources-related M&A, and Bill Smith was an expert at projects.
Clayton Utz’s clients appreciated how the firm gave favourable discounts on its fees. Barry Irwin was a talented negotiator with extensive Asian contacts. Graeme Dennis and Graham Taylor were also recommended.
Freehills’ Bill Napier was chosen for project work, while Donald Robertson was a top pick for energy regulatory work. Toby Anderson was commended for being thorough and quick.
Allens Arthur Robinson’s Tony Wassaf was praised as the local mining expert.
Deacons was at the top of the order, typically chosen for contracts. Grant Ahearn was picked for structured deals, while Ian McCubbin was the one for China-related deals.
Norton Gledhill’s Peter Nelson was used for electricity and derivates.
Madgwicks’ Rod Gillam was pursued for his energy contracts.
Johnson Winter & Slattery’s Peter Rose, DLA Phillips Fox’s Simon Uthmeyer, Chambers & Company’s Robin Chambers, and Tresscox Lawyers were also given kudos.
Freehills won high praise in Victoria, and clients appreciated the firm’s work in energy, contracts and dispute resolution. Robert Nicholson had a quick turnaround, provided reliable advice, and was calm in a crisis. Andrew Clark was thorough and quick. Jared Muller and John Tivey were also recommended.
Blakes’ Jon Carson had a “great” knowledge of the energy sector and a “fantastic” knowledge of his clients’ businesses; Graeme Harris was efficient; Martin Kudnig was “first class”; and Arthur Apos was also recommended.
Minters was used for contracts. Mitzi Gilligan had a deep understanding of the energy industry, and was commercially focused.
Mallesons’ James Fahey impressed with his oil and gas expertise. Tim Bednall and Josh Cole were also mentioned.
Allens’ Scott Langford was a resources expert, and Clayton Utz’s Melbourne team was recommended.
HopgoodGanim’s reasonable rates and good working relationships helped the firm top the Queensland market was chosen for oil and gas because it gave broad scope in its advice. Martin Klapper was renowned for his knowledge of mining legislation, and quick turnaround. Michele Muscillo, Brian Moller and Michael Hansel were also recommended.
Carter Newell was chosen for its independence, and its agreements for mining companies and joint ventures. Its secondment lawyers provided a “window” of how the firm worked. Bronwyn Clarkson was very thorough and practical. James Plumb was recommended.
McCullough Robertson was generally picked for mining lease applications, contracts and projects. Damien Clarke was reputed for engineering and resources. Darren White was approachable, practical and thorough. Derek Pocock, Brett Heading and Tracey Moore were also recommended.
Holding Redlich was the one for resources contracts and project, and was an alternative to larger firms that had too many conflicts of interest. Scott Lambert was sought after.
National firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s John Kelly was one of Brisbane’s best because he was results- focused, and had an excellent network of partners.
Deacons’ Michael Joyce and Tresscox were also players.
Minters had the lion’s share of the Brisbane market, owing to its depth of knowledge. Ian Briggs did a good job of managing risk, and provided “cutting-edge” terminology; Denis Gately was practical, good at finding solutions, responsive and working to deadlines. Mark Carkeet, Allison Warburton, Andrew Rentoul, Brendan Clark and Simon Scott were mentioned.
Freehills was tops for energy acquisitions, resources, joint ventures and projects. Gary Maguire was responsive and had vast experience in power; Phillip Christensen was a talented negotiator and specialist in supply contracts to Asia; and Jay Leary was recommended.
Blakes’ team was chosen for its numbers and “horsepower” for due diligence, energy, and regulation. Simon Brown was responsive and knowledgeable; Paul Newman was “preeminent” with a wide knowledge; and Mark White was a top electricity lawyer.
Clayton Utz’s Kiera Brennan was chosen for resources because of her strategic thinking, and practical, commercial, solutions focused approach. Mark Geritz was recommended.
Allens’ John Greig was a leader of electricity, oil and gas. Ken MacDonald had a wealth of experience.
ADELAIDE AND OTHERS
Finlaysons’ work on mineral, petroleum and indigenous Australians stood out in South Australia. George McKenzie was a good negotiator, produced well structured contracts, and gave well thought out advice. Jeremy Schultz stood the test of time, continuing to be chosen over the years for his knowledge of SA law, and his “priority” service.
McDonald Steed McGrath received a considerable amount of resources- related native title work. Mike McDonald and Abigail Steed were mentioned.
Piper Alderman’s Simon Venus and Ashley Watson were valued for their services.
JWS’ James Marshall was chosen for M&A, permits and negotiations.
Kelly & Co’s Andrew Corletto was preferred for petroleum.
Minters topped the national firms and was typically chosen for electricity grid work. Clay Wohling had a deep understanding of the electricity industry, was thorough and commercial in his outlook. Kent Grey and Christopher Darby were quick, immediately responded to client requests, and produced high quality work. Ewan Vickery was recommended.
Blakes’ new Adelaide office is off to a good start, with clients saying the firm had been proactively contacting them.
Cridlands MB Lawyers’ Tony Whitelum received top marks for energy & resources disputes in the Northern Territory.
Cochrane Lishman proved to be the top WA firm for energy M&A, oil and gas acquisitions, and takeover defence. Michael Lishman’s advice was useful and offered value money. Justin Harris and Tracey Renshaw were recommended.
Allion Legal gave commercially pragmatic resources advice around the clock, in a responsive and solutions-focused manner. Clients praised the firm for allowing clients to make quick phone calls for legal advice without billing them for it. Philip Lucas and Craig Readhead were recommended.
Jackson McDonald was a longstanding choice for government, regulation and energy policy. Matthew Bowen and Stephen Doyle were favourites.
Middletons’ Robert Franklyn was practical and knowledgeable. Simon Salter was mentioned.
JWS’ Michael Dulaney and Peter Smith were well recognised in the Perth market.
Lavan Legal tended to be chosen for gas, and Caroline Brown was mentioned.
Corrs’ Peter Jarosek, Adam Handley and Chris Ryder were some of Australia’s leading energy & resources experts.
Deacons’ Liz Allnutt, DLA Phillips Fox’s Robert Edel, and Blakiston & Crabb’s
Michael Blakiston, and Price Sierakowski’s Paul Price were also recommended.
Mallesons was typically used for power procurements and resources matters. David Perks and Alan Murray were recommended.
Blakes’ was chosen for oil and gas. Roger Davies, James Bruining and Adam Conway were mentioned.
Freehills’ Stuart Barrymore was a “top-notch” oil and gas practitioner. Rob Merrick was mentioned.
Clayton Utz’s Geoff Simpson stood out from the rest.
Allens was acknowledged for its Perth presence.
Buddle Findlay was ahead of the pack with its experience in energy, regulation and public law. Tony Dellow left his competitors far behind when it came to regulatory matters; he demonstrated an ability to deliver and fit his client’s culture. Peter Owles was great for project developments, and geothermal generation development clients highly recommend him. Alastair Hercus took the time to have “fruitful discussions” with his clients about policy direction and framework. Tony Dellow, Susie Kiltie and Nick Crang were recommended.
Simpson Grierson had a long history with its clients because the firm gave value-added service and did a “top job” for matters of a strategic, regulatory, sales, and joint venture nature. Elizabeth Welson and Dave Trueman were responsive and easy to deal with. Philip Milne, Duncan Laing and Michelle van Kampen had a commendable attention to detail.
Bell Gully advised extensively on gas, and clients liked the firm’s fixed fee options. David Coull was knowledgeable and found “robust” commercial solutions. Garry Downs had more than 20 years’ experience and a reputation that convinced clients to choose the firm.
Clients loved Kensington Swan’s work on joint ventures, partnerships, energy, and contracts because the firm had a “deep knowledge” of the market and regulation. Bryan Gunderson had a personal approach, was responsiveness and knowledgeable of market developments.
Minter Ellison Rudd Watts was chosen for electricity regulation and public issues. Carolyn van Leuven’s strength was in electricity pricing, due to her knowledge of new methodologies. Paul Foley, Tom Fail, Mark Weenink and Rachel Devine were recommended.
Greenwood Roche Chisnall was chosen for resources, public law and projects. David Chisnall was client-focused, outcome-focused, and had vast experience in projects.
Russell McVeagh was picked for oil and gas. Joe Windmeyer had a loyal client base. Christian Whata, Derek Nolan and Bal Matheson were recommended.
Chapman Tripp was popular for petroleum and reviewing legislation. Brigid McArthur was mentioned.
Anderson Lloyd’s Mark Christensen; Anthony Harper; and ChanceryGreen’s Jason Welsh and Mark Sly were called experts.
Auckland Transition Agency in-house lawyer Rob Fisher, formerly the chairman of Simpson Grierson, was professional, hands-on, and liked for his willingness to come on-site.
In the preparation of this report, ALB conducted telephone interviews with Australian and New Zealand companies and law firms. In addition, ALB sought opinions from Australian and New Zealand partners. Please note that in the state of the market local firms are listed first followed by national firms, arranged according to feedback received. Interviews were mainly conducted in the two-week period from 13 May to 28 May 2009.
NB: Firms are listed alphabetically under each subheading
- BAKER & MCKENZIE
- GILBERT + TOBIN
- HENRY DAVIS YORK
- HOLDING REDLICH
- JOHNSON WINTER & SLATTERY
- NORTON GLEDHILL
- TRESSCOX LAWYERS
- CARTER NEWELL
- CORRS CHAMBERS WESTGARTH
- HOLDING REDLICH
- MCCULLOUGH ROBERTSON
- JOHNSON WINTER & SLATTERY
- KELLY & CO
- MCDONALD STEED MCGRATH
- PIPER ALDERMAN
- ALLION LEGAL
- COCHRANE LISHMAN
- CORRS CHAMBERS WESTGARTH
- JACKSON MCDONALD
- BELL GULLY
- BUDDLE FINDLAY
- KENSINGTON SWAN
- MINTER ELLISON RUDD WATTS
- SIMPSON GRIERSON
NATIONAL TOP TIER FIRMS
- ALLENS ARTHUR ROBINSON
- BLAKE DAWSON
- CLAYTON UTZ
- MALLESONS STEPHEN JAQUES
- MINTER ELLISON
Other recommended firms
NB: Firms are listed in alphabetical order under each subheading
- ATANASKOVIC HARTNELL
- CHANG, PISTILLI & SIMMONS
- DLA PHILLIPS FOX
- PIPER ALDERMAN
- CHAMBERS & COMPANY
- DLA PHILLIPS FOX
- BLAKISTON & CRABB
- DLA PHILLIPS FOX
- JOHNSON WINTER & SLATTERY
- LAVAN LEGAL
- PRICE SIERAKOWSKI
- ANDERSON LLOYD
- ANTHONY HARPER
- CHAPMAN TRIPP
- GREENWOOD ROCHE CHISNALL
- RUSSELL MCVEAGH
NB: Listed alphabetically by surname
Firm: Jackson McDonald
• Practice areas: energy & resources, competition
• Advised private and public sector on energy contracting, transport; M&A with respect to gas, electricity, resource development infrastructure
• Memberships: Australian Institute of Energy, Australian Mining and Petroleum Lawyers' Association, Western Australian Sustainable Energy Association
Firm: Clayton Utz
• Practice areas: energy & resources, infrastructure, M&A
• Advised on coal- and gas- sale agreements, acquisition of a 70 percent interest in a coal mine joint venture
• Memberships: Queensland Law Society, Australian Mining Petroleum Law Association
Firm: Minter Ellison
• Practice areas: energy, projects, project finance, infrastructure, arbitration
• Advised on projects and strategic alliances for resources infrastructure developments, involving the North Queensland Gas Pipeline, Comalco's Alumina Refinery, Anglo's Dawson Project
• Memberships: Infrastructure Association of Queensland, Institute of Arbitrators Australia, Australasian Alliance Association
Firm: Blake Dawson
• Practice areas: energy & resources, project finance, PPP, infrastructure
• More than 20 years' experience
• Advised private and public companies, financiers, borrowers, government
Firm: Carter Newell
• Practice areas: resources, corporate, property
• Advised on gas sales and transportation agreements, pipeline land access work JVs, tenement acquisitions, farm-in agreements, restructuring, due diligence
• Memberships: Australian Mining and Petroleum Law Association, Queensland Petroleum Exploration Association, Australian Pipeline Industry Association
Firm: Mallesons Stephen Jaques
• Practice areas: resources, M&A, capital markets, corporate, private equity
• Advised on Chinalco-Rio Tinto stake acquisition, Rinker Group- CSR demerger, BHP Billiton-BHP Steel demerger, BHP-OneSteel demerger
• Memberships: Securities Institute of Australia - Mergers and Acquisitions Taskforce
Firm: Bell Gully
• Practice areas: energy, M&A, infrastructure, project, private equity, corporate
• Special focus on oil and gas industry
• Advised on Contact Energy-Pohokura-Maui ROFR gas acquisitions, Origin Energy-Swift Energy New Zealand oil and gas assets acquisition, Australian Worldwide Exploration-Tui development acquisition
Firm: Buddle Findlay
• Practice areas: energy, government, infrastructure, competition
• Advised Electricity Commission on Transpower’s proposal to upgrade the transmission grid into Auckland, and Contact Energy on the NZ Commerce Commission’s inquiry into the Kiwi electricity industry
• Involved in design and passing of New Zealand’s business law and industry regulation statutes, including energy sector-related legislation
Firm: Minter Ellison
• Practice areas: energy & resources, M&A, PPP, transport, competition
• Advised on electricity and gas; leads due diligence teams for M&A in the energy sector; contracts for clients in the energy sector
• Clients: AGL, Duke Energy (now Alinta), GasNet Australia, Pacific Hydro, Singapore Power, SPI PowerNet, Yallourn Energy
Firm: Kensington Swan
• Energy and climate change workgroups leader
• Practice areas: energy & resources, competition, climate change, infrastructure
• Advised government, multinationals and private sector companies on gas and petroleum sales, petroleum exploration and development, coal and electricity projects, gold mining, aluminium smelter projects
• Energy & resources practice leader
• Practice areas: energy & resources, M&A, construction, infrastructure, project, environment
• More than 20 years’ experience in advising on coal seam gas, geothermal energy, environmentally-friendly power generation
Firm: Cochrane Lishman
• Practice areas: energy, M&A
• Advised boards of Western Australian public companies on major transactions in Perth and Melbourne
• Judged by peers as a top lawyer in both corporate/governance and M&A
• Resources & native title practice head
• Practice areas: resources, native title, construction, infrastructure
• Advised resources industry from exploration to production stages; acted on South Australia’s landmark resources projects
• Non-executive partnership chairman
• Practice areas: energy & resources, M&A, corporate, privatisation, foreign investment, capital markets
• Past clients: Sims Metal Management, Straits Resources, Orica, Pacific Hydro, AGL
Firm: Minter Ellison
• Practice areas: energy & resources, project, project finance, infrastructure, M&A
• Advised on takeovers of Coeur D'Alene Mine-Bolnisi Gold NL, Zinifex-Allegiance Mining, Sinosteel-Midwest Corporation, Carnegie Wylie
• Acted on transactions valued at over A$100bn, including recommended and hostile takeover bids, schemes of arrangement, redomiciles, privatisation
• Energy and infrastructure practice leader
• Practice areas: energy & resources, infrastructure, M&A, government, corporate
• More than 15 years’ experience in energy, resources, project; widely sought after in Australia and Asia-Pacific region
Firm: Gilbert + Tobin
• Practice areas: energy, banking, competition
• Advised on wholesale electricity pool markets, hedge contract trading, bilateral power or capacity agreements, gas exploration and production, gas and coal consumption, energy retailing
• Advised energy sector on various competition and regulatory issues
CAROLYN VAN LEUVEN
Firm: Minter Ellison Rudd Watts
• Electricity practice leader
• Practice areas: energy & resources, competition, corporate, M&A, regulatory
• Advised on M&A of businesses, electricity and gas supply, transmission and interconnection, metering services, regulatory environment
Firm: Holding Redlich
• Practice areas: energy & resources, corporate
• Considerable experience in major transactions involving complex documentation, tax effective structuring of commercial deals, due diligence
• Clients: Elemental Energy Technologies, Australian Pipeline Trust, Pan Pacific Petroleum
Firm: Cridlands MB Lawyers
Location: Alice Springs
• Practice areas: litigation, energy & resources, employment
• Advised on Ferguson-BHP dispute, Mitchell-Castrol litigation
• Memberships: Law Society of the Northern Territory, Law Council Access to Justice Committee, Australian Lawyers Alliance
Firm: Minter Ellison
• Practice areas: energy & resources, project, project finance, construction, competition, regulatory
• Advised on electricity agreements, construction contracts, regulatory compliance
• Memberships: Australian Corporate Lawyers Association