With the expansion of international firms into the Australian legal market over the last few years, there has been a focus on opportunities for lawyers across the board throughout the top tier. However, for those lawyers working in complimentary or advisory practice groups, the future may not be so bright.
Mergers like King & Wood with Mallesons and Ashurst with Blakes appear to be setting the tone for the future of the top tier. Whispers of high-level discussions between Magic and Silver Circle firms and the top-tier have arisen, with Freehills and Herbert Smith recently confirming they are in discussions. Add to that the standalone entrance of major players like Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance and the face of the legal market appears very different to that which many are accustomed to.
It is seemingly inevitable that all of the major international law firms will eventually have offices in Sydney. This will signify an increasingly intense competitive market, with firms like A&O already showing they can compete on the M&A tables after barely two years of operation in the region. In such a market where global equity pools suddenly come into play, expect to see a narrowing of focus – practice groups that bill big (think corporate, banking, finance and litigation) will begin to take precedence over the smaller, complementary groups. This will be compounded further as issues relating to historically high exchange rates begin to kick in.
This means that for lawyers in groups like employment, IP, media, government and insurance, the changing face of the top tier may not provide the opportunity that it does for corporate lawyers and litigators. It stands to reason that groups where clients have great cost restrictions are going to continue to be put under pressure as streamlining occurs. It would seem that the future of these groups is in the mid-tier or boutique space in the medium term, with many of these practice groups already excelling in the area. For those lawyers in such a group, now may be the ideal time to begin to reconsider your position in the market in order to settle your career long term.
If you would like to know more about the Australian local market, current opportunities available and how best to manage your move, get in touch with one of our Senior Consultants on +61 2 9266 2900 as soon as possible for a confidential discussion about the legal market.