Were it not for a series of significant disputes involving major resources projects the construction practices at larger firms may well have been a little quiet in the past 12-18 months. The sheer size and dollar value of the projects combined with a soft resources market has resulted in a higher than expected volume of disputes around such projects and, typically the firms who performed the front end work a number of years ago have now been awarded gigs on the back end work too.
The mid-tier and smaller firms have benefited from these disputes too but have also seen a range of disputes relating to lower level infrastructure and services supporting the abovementioned resources projects as well as a host of work flowing from high-density residential projects.
In the above market dynamic, and with a relative absence of significant front-end work going on at present, there are questions as to where the construction litigation practices of some of the large firms may source their medium-term disputes work.
Not So Deep
The key client-side issue in the Queensland construction law market at present is depth.
On non-contentious matters, particularly major infrastructure and projects work, there’s only a handful of firms in Queensland who can honestly put their hand up and demonstrate experience and expertise. Indeed there’s a reaonable argument that outside of Clayton Utz, Minter Ellison, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Herbert Smith Freehills and Ashurst (in that order) no other Queensland construction practice can demonstrate true high-level front end expertise and track record.
The state’s solicitors also lamented a lack of depth and true specialisation in construction at the Queensland bar. Both at a Senior and Junior level there a few genuine construction specialists with the majority of our ranked individuals being commercial barristers who also rank equally as well within the areas of insolvency and general commercial litigation.
The New Entrants
Perhaps of most note though is the number of new entrants to the Queensland construction law market that have appeared in the past nine months.
Initially Craig Sawford and Aleisha McKenzie left CBP Lawyers to start the suburban based firm of Construct Law in October 2014.
Then, in January 2014 Steve Pyman transported substantial part of the Holding Redlich Brisbane construction practice and personnel with him to his new firm CDI Lawyers and shortly thereafter (but after a lengthy search) Baker & McKenzie announced the establishment of a Brisbane construction practice by hiring former Norton Rose Fulbright Senior Associate Aleisa Crepin as a Partner.
Finally, in March of this year Piper Alderman got in on the game by hiring former Thiess GC Ted Williams.
In an already crowded and competitive market, especially within the mid-tier space that the majority of these new entrants seek to target, the prediction is that some of the firms sitting lower in our rankings may well find their construction practice not hitting the same financial targets as they have in the past few financial years.