Leading law firms raise the bar

Andrew Pike, the chief executive of Herbert Smith Freehills in Australia. Picture: Britta Campion
Andrew Pike, the chief executive of Herbert Smith Freehills in Australia. Picture: Britta Campion

An independent assessment of the nation’s leading law firms has found the level of professional excellence at Herbert Smith Freehills and King & Wood Mallesons is almost indistinguishable.

For the second year in a row, the Chambers and Partners guide to the law firms of the Asia-Pacific has found that these two big practices are locked in a tie for pre-eminence.

When judged by the number of practice groups performing at an elite or band-one level, Freehills and Mallesons each have 19 band-one rankings — a tally that remains unchanged from last year.

But when judged by the overall number of practice groups that were ranked by Chambers at any level, Freehills improved its tally by two, which places it just ahead with a total of 29 compared to 28 for Mallesons.

This is the sixth year in a row that Chambers and Partners has found that Freehills — alone or in company — had the highest number of practice groups working at an elite level.

Andrew Pike, the firm’s regional managing partner for Australia, said the rankings highlighted the importance that clients placed on firms having an integrated offering across the Asia-Pacific.

“The latest Chambers rankings reflect what our clients are telling us. They are after strong teams of leading practitioners who can help them with their strategic issues,” Mr Pike said.

“Increasingly there are fewer firms that can offer this. The rankings show that with our leading domestic practices and global reach, we are one of these firms.”

Berkeley Cox, the chief executive partner of King & Wood Mallesons in Australia, said his firm’s high rankings demonstrated a depth and breadth of talent as well as years of dedication to particular disciplines.

“Although the results are positive, we are not resting on our laurels,” he said.

The table, prepared for The Australian by Chambers, shows the gap between the top two firms and four other leading practices is nar­rowing.

Allens is again in third place among the top 35 with 15 band-one rankings, one up from last year.

It has the same number of overall rankings but has more top-level practice groups and fewer performing at lower levels.

Minter Ellison is in fourth place after adding two more band-one rankings to jump ahead of Ashurst, which is down one from last year.

Minters also displaced Ashurst as the firm with the most practice groups ranked by Chambers at any level.

Berkeley Cox, Chief Executive Partner, Australia of King & Wood Mallesons.
Berkeley Cox, Chief Executive Partner, Australia of King & Wood Mallesons.

Last year, Ashurst was ahead on this measure with 30 rankings but has fallen back to 28.

Minters moved up from 29 to 31 and chief executive partner Tony Harrington said this was due to the firm’s ambition to be “our clients’ best partner”.

“This includes Minters strategy of thinking beyond the law to create new and complementary service offerings as well as providing clients with end-to-end solutions designed to solve complex problems,” Mr Harrington said.

Minters’ move up the rankings is the only change in the pecking order among the leading firms. The top seven have retained their dominance, followed by a group of four others led by Norton Rose Fulbright.

The biggest improvement among the leaders was at Clayton Utz, which has three more band-one practice groups than last year and is again in sixth place, just behind Ashurst.

When measured by the number of rankings at any level, Clayton Utz has added one to overtake Ashurst, which is down two from last year.

Chambers has elevated five new firms to the top 35 to replace practices that have been dropped from the list.

One of the missing names is Henry Davis York, which merged last year with Norton Rose Fulbright and which remains in eighth position behind Gilbert + Tobin.

The other firms that do not appear in this year’s top 35 are Kennedys, Thomson Geer, Bird & Bird and Pinsent Masons.

Two of the new additions — Hall & Wilcox and Kemp Strang — have entered the top 35 half way up the rankings at 17th and 18th respectively.

The other new faces in the top 35 are Mills Oakley, Dibbs Barker and international firm Dentons, which merged in 2016 with the Sydney, Perth and Port Moresby offices of Gadens.

Dentons enters the top 35 with a total of six practice areas that have been ranked by Chambers, twice as many as the Gadens offices that chose not to merge with the international firm.

Chambers has placed Gadens ahead of Dentons in the rankings because two of Gadens’ practice areas have been ranked at band two level, compared to one for Dentons.

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