The most frequent talking point across our research this year was unquestionably the arrival of US head-quarted employment specialist firm Seyfarth Shaw to Australian shores in 2013. The firm’s five partner Sydney office was launched by way of luring three Partners (Darren Perry, Ben Dudley & Justine Turnbull) and one Executive Counsel (Luke Edwards) from Herbert Smith Freehills and one Partner from Ashurst (Rachel Bernasconi) and while it’s still too early to determine the firm’s true market position early results have been particularly strong.
The most direct result of Seyfarth Shaw’s entry into the Australian market has been the reduced status of Herbert Smith Freehills and, in particular, the firm’s Sydney employment team. While the firm held onto it’s brightest star in practice stalwart Miles Bastick, the loss of Darren Perry, Ben Dudley and Justine Turnbull sees the remainder of the firm’s senior personnel in the Sydney employment team looking well… not quite so senior. Nationally the firm possesses the strength a depth in its employment practice to temporarily overcome a weakness in one office, even one as important as Sydney, but for the time being at least, Herbert Smith Freehills sit in the unusual position of not being in our first tier of NSW employment firms.
Also falling down our rankings is Clayton Utz whose Sydney employment team in the past two years has seen the departures of practice figurehead Joe Catanzariti (to the Fair Work Commission in April 2013) and also of the robust and forthright Maurice Baroni (initially to K&L Gates although Barroni now is a Partner at McCabes). Although remaining partner Robbie Coleman is praised by peers the firm faces some serious challenges to regain ground as the queries voiced nationally about Clayton Utz’s ongoing commitment to the area of employment echo loudest in New South Wales.
Conversely the employment practice at the likes of Baker & McKenzie, Henry Davis York and Minter Ellison have all enjoyed a stability that has seen them strengthen in market position.
On the employee/applicant side the continued absence of a dominant or at least a substantially present employee focused practice remains puzzling. Instead employee interests are typically represented by a range of smaller specialist firms with only Slater & Gordon and WG McNally Jones Staff gaining regular mentions. Maurice Blackburn appeared to be the firm most capable of sitting atop the employee side however the relocation of rising star Giri Sivaraman to the firm’s Brisbane office has, for the time being at least, prevents the firm from attaining this position.