Rain-sodden Brisbane is still shaping up as one of the hottest markets for the legal industry in 2011– but local firms are wary of the ever-increasing competition
To ascertain which markets law firms regard as “hot”, try following the trail of activity: the opening of new offices, law firms acquiring smaller firms, starting greenfields operations or poaching partners from rivals. It is true that the biggest fish of them all, Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy, has not apparently felt the need for a Brisbane presence, but many others have: new arrivals Johnson Winter & Slattery and Macpherson + Kelley and consolidation on the part of Cooper Grace Ward and Gadens via local mergers.
This is a market with a tradition of competition from new entrants: firms which have arrived through acquisition, such as Herbert Geer and greenfields operations such as Mills Oakley, both of which have plans to grow in Brisbane. “We’re not full-service yet – we accept that there are gaps and we are dedicated to filling those,” says Mills Oakley partner Stephen Dickens.
Other Brisbane firms are also looking to grow. Carter Newell, for example, was recently in the market for eight new lawyers and Thynne & Macartney is planning some “bolt-on” practices and lateral hires. Managing partner John Moore won’t disclose the details of these plans, but he says that they reflect his
optimism about the direction of the market in 2011.
Outwardly, the Queensland market has had more than its fair share of activity: the multi-billion dollar QR
float, some of Australia’s most ambitious resource-related plans in the LNG sector and plenty of M&A intrigue in the coal sector. However, Queensland firms report that many of their clients remain cautious and are not predicting a spectacular year. “There’s an increasing amount of confidence, but it’s still a case of hasten slowly,” says Dickens. “A number of businesses could do with some more working
capital but I suspect they’re concentrating more on consolidation rather than aggressive growth. That might change in the second half of the year.”
McCullough Robertson’s Brett Heading, who is hoping his firm will record 5% revenue growth this year,
says the theme of cautious optimism will continue: “I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a reasonable calendar year in 2011 but I don’t think it’s going to be fantastic,” he says. That caution may be a contrast to the billion-dollar deals and projects which are being freely discussed in the media, but much of this work is flowing to national toptier firms.
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