Last year’s Christmas party at Sydney firm Atanaskovic Hartnell must have been unforgettable.
Founding partner Tony Hartnell announced he planned to retire, and that stiffened the resolve of a group of partners who have just split the firm.
Hartnell’s departure, which had been planned for this month, never eventuated.
But the prospect of losing the former chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission triggered a much larger movement for the door.
Three partners – including the firm’s co-managing partner Mark Pistilli – have now established a firm of their own.
It’s more of a split than a walk-out. The new firm, Chang, Pistilli & Simmons, has about half the old firm’s legal staff and some of its major clients including Sumitomo Corporation, Australian Pipeline Trust and Babcock & Brown.
Diana Chang, Mark Pistilli and Danny Simmons were the three longest-serving partners at Atanaskovic Hartnell – apart from John Atanaskovic and Tony Hartnell.
Atanaskovic founded the firm with Hartnell about 12 years ago. Before that, they had been been partners at a firm then known as Allen Allen & Hemsley.
Atanaskovic is one of the nation’s most experienced corporate lawyers and has worked on some of the biggest deals. When he was at Allens, his reputation as a tough-talking deal-maker earned him the nickname “Mr Antagonistic”.
Chang, Pistilli & Simmons has taken premises in Australia Square and, after a rapid fit-out, opened their doors this month.
The departing partners have been joined by Jane Ann Gray, who resigned her partnership at Middletons.
Gray, a former partner at Atanaskovic Hartnell, will initially hold the title of special counsel.
Pistilli said the founding partners of the new firm had been considering such a move for two to three years but “it has really been in the last six months that we have been planning for it”.
Danny Simmons said the announcement of Hartnell’s retirement affected the timetable for the establishment of the new firm.