The Western Australian employment law market has long been crying out for the degree of diversification and stratification its East Cost cousins enjoy and the laast 12 months has delivered such. While HLS Legal remain the only “specialist” employment law firm in the state, the arrival of HWL Ebsworth and their lure of Erica Hartley (from Herbert Smith Freehills) and West Perth based Allion Legal’s hire of Kathy Reid (from Herbert Smith Freehills) has bolstered the “mid-tier” offerings that attract the bread and butter employment law work in other Australian jurisdictions.
Activity wise, WA’s employment lawyers remain as busy however outside of a handful of key industrial disputes the move of many of the state’s resources projects from construction to operational has seen an increased focus on a broad range of employment matters.
Allion Legal’s 2013 entry into the Perth employment law market via the lateral hire of former Herbert Smith Freehills Executive Counsel Kathy Reid has delivered early results amongst the small to mid-cap West Perth based resources companies as well as energy utilities.
Having played second fiddle to Herbert Smith Freehills for many years, Ashurst are certainly enjoying their new found position as the market’s largest employment practice. Partner Marie-Claire Foley remains well respected in employment matters while “head-kicker” David Partner and the “astute” and “”reasoned” Rob Lilburne earn strong respect from peers.
Clayton Utz’s strong government practice was well noted, in particular the firm’s strength in acting on prosecution matters for the Fair Work Ombudsman. Partner Saul Harben was viewed as “a solid performer who knows when to push the buttons”.
Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s Perth employment practice may not possess the historical reputation or the size of it’s fellow first tier counterparts but nonetheless the 2012 addition of “nice bloke and a bloody good lawyer” Simon Billing to the firm’s partnership has expanded the firm’s scope and breadth to comfortably place it within our first tier. Practice leader Nick Ellery is “incredibly sharp” and “chooses his battles well”.
DLA Piper continues to get significant contractor based work on major resource project however lack the presence the firm has historically enjoyed.
Personnel departures have unquestionably hurt the “brand” and “reputation” of the WA employment practice at Herbert Smith Freehills but in every Australian jurisdiction in which it operates the firm has historically supplied the personnel to launch rival firm’s employment practices and yet still managed to maintain its position at the top of the tree. The departures of Partner Erica Hartley and Executive Counsel Erica Hartley may have eroded the firm’s size and effectiveness on mid-level work however with veteran and heavy industry specialist Russell Allen now energised and even more active the market the firm looks as strong as ever.
HLS Legal’s specialist offering continues to gain broad respect, in particular for the firm’s “quality across the board”. Partner David Heldsinger is “a wolf when he wants to be” while Jon Long is “commercial and reasonable”.
HWL Ebsworth’s entry into the Western Australian market via a merger with Downings Legal in late 2013 was followed shortly thereafter by the hire of former Herbert Smith Freehills Partner Erica Hartley.
K&L Gates’ Duncan Fletcher continues to assert a significant presence as a genuine rival to the major firms. Well positioned in the resources and construction sector, Fletcher is noted as “going from strength to strength” and, in September 2013 was joined by former Newmont Mining in-house counsel Andrew Kennedy to expand their firm’s Perth based employment law offering.
King & Wood Mallesons’ Phil Willox was noted as one of the WA market’s stronger safety practitioners.
MDC Legal sits clear as the premier Perth based employee focused employment law firm. Founder and Partner Mark Cox earns the greatest of respect from his adversaries, so much so that he is almost exclusively their sole port of call when referring conflicting matters. Cox is viewed as having “a cool head on his shoulders” and “forceful but always reasonable”.