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Hogan Lovells Enters Australian Market

Tim & Nicky Lester Image: Lawyersweekly

Shakeup and mergers in the Australian legal market have been a consistent pattern in recent years. Now UK-based Hogan Lovells is to set up in Australia, taking two Allens partners to commence Aussie operations in July.

The two former Allens parters are Nicky Lester and Tim Lester.

The firm says that rather than trying to set up a multidisciplinary practice in Australia it wants to use its Australian base to strengthen is Asian presence and better serve its US clients with international transactions.

The Australian reports:

“Our proposition is different – we will be using our presence in Australia to develop our Asia practice, particularly cross-border trade,” said Hogan Lovells Asia & the Middle East regional managing partner Patrick Sherrington.

The firm has watched the Australian market, waiting for the right opportunity. Mr Sherrington said that it concluded that a large scale merger – an option chosen by a number – was not the right move strategically.

The firm plans to grow its local partner numbers to around 10 over the next two years, based in Sydney and Perth.

In taking on board Tim Lester, Hogan Lovells is re-acquainting itself with a former partner. Mr Lester was a partner at its London and Tokyo branches before returning to Perth in 2008, where he has led Allens’s Japan sector, advising clients such as HSBC and INPEX. From July 1 it is expected that he will lead Hogan Lovells’ Australian corporate finance practice.

In the east, based in Sydney, Nicky Lester will run the banking and finance practice. A structured finance and securitisation specialist, until now she has led the banking & finance group of Allens, where her bluechip clients include HSBC, Westpac and Investa.

He said that the move enabled the global firm to “draw on the full resources of our global offering, especially in highly regulated industries such as energy and mining”.

So how does that leave the stakes for global law firms who have made the move Down Under?

By the start of 2013, most of the domestic firms that made up the traditional ‘Big 6’ had undergone a global transformation of some sort. Blake Dawson lost its identity, rebranding as Ashurst Australia post merger. Allens ditched “Arthur Robinson” on alliance with UK-based Linklaters. Freehills partnered with another UK-born firm Herbert Smith to become Herbert Smith Freehills; while the local firm affectionately known as “Mallies” tied up with the Chinese powerhouse without namesakes via a Swiss Verein merger to become King & Wood Mallesons.

Only two remain stubbornly domestic: Clayton Utz and Minter Ellison. A swathe of boutique and innovative law firms are disrupting the market and it is no longer viewed in such a strict tier sense.

Allen & Overy stakes its claim as the “first global elite law firm” to set up shop in Australia, in early 2010. From the 17 start-up partners, poached predominantly from Clayton Utz, partnership has crept to a little over 20. Two have since returned to Clayton Utz.

But Baker & McKenzie came to Australia half a century before it.

Other entrants include Norton Rose Fulbright in 2010, merging with Deacons Australia and growing to 600 lawyers nationwide and DLA Piper in 2011.

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