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July 18, 2011 6:37 PM

Australian Firms Grab Lead Roles on Mining Deal

Posted by Brian Baxter

Australia is increasingly the place to be for large international and Am Law 200 law firms seeking new venues for deal work.

On Monday, China's Hanlong Mining Investment put forth a $1.52 billion bid for Aussie mining company Sundance Resources, the latest natural resources deal announced Down Under. Bloomberg reports that Hanlong owns 18.6 percent of Sundance, which has key mineral deposits in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo.

Hanlong acquired its initial stake in Sundance in March by purchasing a 16 percent ownership interest in the company held by the estate of former nonexecutive director Ken Talbot, according to The Australian. The Aussie mining magnate was killed a year ago in a plane crash over the Congo, where Sundance is developing a massive iron ore project. (Also killed in the crash was top Sundance executive and mining industry lawyer John Carr-Gregg.)

Clayton Utz M&A partners Mark Paganin and Matthew Johnson are advising Perth-based Sundance on the takeover offer by Hanlong, according to a statement by the firm. Marc Montandon, Sundance's general counsel, previously practiced at Clayton Utz.

Michael Blakiston, a former name partner at the Perth-based boutique Blakiston & Crabb, serves on Sundance's board of directors, having been appointed to the position a year ago to replace some of those killed in the crash that killed Talbot and Carr-Gregg. Blakiston & Crabb was acquired by Sydney-based Gilbert + Tobin in May, according to sibling publication The Asian Lawyer. The two firms had established a formal alliance a year ago.

David Friedlander, an M&A partner at Mallesons Stephen Jaques in Sydney, is advising Chengdu-based Hanlong on its bid for Sundance, along with senior associate Paul Schroder. Last week Friedlander and Mallesons picked up the assignment advising steel giant ArcelorMittal on its joint $5.1 billion bid with Peabody Energy to acquire Brisbane-based Macarthur Coal, which was founded by Talbot.

Also announced last week: A $12.1 billion offer by Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton to acquire Houston-based oil and gas producer Petrohawk Energy. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius landed the lead legal advisory roles on that deal.

The surge in cross-border transactional work out of Australia has peaked the interest of major international law firms who have set their sights on poaching domestic shops for top talent.

Allen & Overy got the ball rolling last year when it raided Clayton Utz for 15 partners, including four top practice leaders. Magic Circle rival Clifford Chance, which called off preliminary merger talks with Mallesons three years ago, countered in February by acquiring two Aussie corporate boutiques.

In May, DLA Piper officially became the world's largest law firm by attorney head count after merging with its Aussie alliance partner DLA Phillips Fox. DLA snagged two partners this week from a local firm in Brisbane, according to Australasian Legal Business.

The Am Law Daily reported last month that British firm Norton Rose reported a 9 percent increase in gross revenue in 2010 to $841 million following its merger with Aussie firm Deacons.

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