The Firms

August 4, 2011 11:00 PM

Squire Sanders to Launch Perth Office After Raiding Top Aussie Firm

Posted by Brian Baxter

Perth Skyline

Almost a year to the day after Squire, Sanders & Dempsey confirmed it was in merger talks with British firm Hammonds, the Am Law 100 firm has announced that it is making a major push into the Australian legal market by grabbing a sizable chunk of leading Australian firm Minter Ellison's Perth office.

In making the move, Squire Sanders, which completed its merger with Hammonds last year, follows in the footsteps of several top U.K. and international firms, becomes one of the few U.S. firms to enter the Australian market in recent years, and expands its reach into the fast-growing Asia Pacific region.

"The potential combination of Squire Sanders and partners from Minter Ellison Perth would add to our capabilities and developing practice in Asia, with Perth providing a key hub for services to the region's growing economies," said Squire Sanders chair and global CEO James Maiwurm in a statement announcing the move by the firm. "We are attracted to the Minter Ellison Perth partners because of their strong domestic practices and outstanding energy and resources component, which will complement and strengthen Squire Sanders's existing practices and expertise."

According to Minter Ellison's Web site, the firm has 18 partners and seven special counsel in Perth. The firm does not list the number of associates working out of Perth, which is located on the country's west coast.

Squire Sanders states that more than 25 percent of the work done by the Perth office is of the cross-border variety, and that the number of international companies seeking to establish projects and businesses in the area makes it a particularly desirable location.

John Poulsen, managing partner of Minter Ellison's Perth office, said in a statement that the chance to join a major international firm like Squire Sanders, which has 36 offices worldwide, represented a "fantastic opportunity" for his lawyers and staff that would allow the group to bolster its domestic and international practices.

"This is the first recognition by a global law firm that Perth is a key hub serving the Asia Pacific [region], one of the world's most dynamic economies," said Poulsen, who will become managing partner of Squire Sanders Australia.

Maiwurm added that the lawyers coming to Squire Sanders from Minter Ellison "will enable the combined firm to strengthen relationships with clients in Japan and China . . . and with clients and opportunities in Africa, and the rest of South East Asia."

Neither Maiwurm nor Poulsen were available for further comment on Squire Sanders's expansion into Perth. A Minter Ellison spokeswoman e-mailed a response to The Am Law Daily late Thursday detailing its take on the Squire Sanders move.

In its e-mailed statement, the Australian firm said the group move to Squire Sanders was, in essence, the result of an amicable split between between Minter Ellison and a Perth firm called Northmore Hale Davy & Leake that had operated under the Minter Ellison banner in western Australia since the eighties.

The Perth office operated as a stand-alone partnership within Minter Ellison, and was thus not financially integrated into the firm as whole. Minter Ellison said it plans to open its own office in Perth in October-- the same month that Squire Sanders is scheduled to set up shop in the city with several of its new hires.

"We have no doubt the decision to go our separate ways is the right outcome," said Minter Ellison chief executive partner John Weber in the statement. "Having a wholly integrated office has been our long held strategy. Through discussions over the past 12 months it has become clear that our two firms have differing commercial objectives in the Western Australia market."

Minter Ellison said it wished the new Perth office of Squire Sanders well. About four partners from Minter Ellison's existing Perth office will remain with the firm in a more integrated capacity. The two Perth shops expect to work collaboratively whenever possible for the mutual benefit of certain clients, according to statements by both firms.

According to the most recent Am Law 100 financial data, Squire Sanders had gross revenues of $518 million and profits per partner of $765,000 in 2010. Minter Ellison, considered one of Australia's Big Six firms, had roughly $550 million in gross revenues for the 2010–11 fiscal year.

Squire Sanders was among the first U.S. firms to moved into Asia when it established a Tokyo office in 1955. While Hammonds's Hong Kong office decided not to join the combined firm last year, Squire Sanders, which already had its own Hong Kong outpost, now adds a new Perth location to its other current Asian operations in Beijing and Shanghai.

The number of international firms heading to Australia has quickened over the past two years. British firm Norton Rose got things started in June 2009 when it acquired Australian firm Deacons. The merger led to a surge in revenues for Norton Rose this year.

Allen & Overy continued the trend in early 2010, raiding leading local firm Clayton Utz for 15 partners on its way to establishing offices in Sydney and Perth. Rival Magic Circle firm Clifford Chance followed a year later by picking up two small local firms in both cities in February. In May, DLA Piper became the world's largest firm by attorney head count after completing a merger with former Down Under alliance partner DLA Phillips Fox, and British firm Holman Fenwick Willan opened a third Australian office in Perth.

Last month another leading Australian firm, Malleson Stephen Jaques, was reported to be in advanced talks on setting up an alliance or formal merger with domestic Chinese firm King & Wood. And this week another large Aussie firm, Blake Dawson, was reported to be edging closer to a merger with top British firm Ashurst. The two firms have been in exploratory talks since at least June, Legal Week reports.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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