Unquestionably the most significant aspect of the Australian transport legal market in the past 12 to 18 months has been the continued rise and emergence of international firms within the area.
· Holman Fenwick & Willan’s now eight year old Australian presence continues to grow in size, scope and market impact;
· Clyde & Co’s Australian presence is not yet two years old yet the firm launched Perth and Melbourne offices late last year and there are strong rumours of a Brisbane office set to launch this year;
· Norton Rose’s Ernie van Buuren and his team look to finally be yielding some reward form the firm’s strong global transport practice;
· Stephen Thompson’s practice is now part of US firm K&L Gate’s global network ; and
· There are claims that other international firms with strong transport practice continues to investigate the viability of an Australian launch.
For now at least many of the local firms, personnel departures aside, seem largely unperturbed by the international arrivals and instead claim that it’s allowed their practices to flourish by way of a differentiation/stratification of work by clients and an increased flow of referral work from non-Australian residing international firms who now have fewer options to choose from.
Either way arrival of the international firms has done little to change our firm and individual rankings. Perhaps the most significant change has been the increased recognition of stronger local players such as the likes of Cocks Macnish, Hicksons Lawyers and Brian White & Associates.
Workflow-wise most firms saw “steady” levels of activity in recent times. The traditional P&I work was seen to have declined and much of the resources related infrastructure work in Western Australia and Queensland has cooled too. To offset these practitioners did note that regulatory work and an increasing frequency of ship arrest matters (particularly in relation to issues of solvency and financial distress) did increase.
Firm Overview (Alphabetical Order)
Perennial quite achiever, Cairns based Brian White & Associates, has emerged as the strongest player in the Queensland transport legal market. The addition of a larger number of junior staff appears to have allowed Partner Brian White to increase his market influence. White was noted as “understated but a pleasure to deal with” and “incredibly sharp and very canny”.
The 2013 addition of former DLA Piper Partner Andrew Tulloch to the transport practice of CBP Lawyers has benefitted the firm’s presence and reach. Veteran Stuart Hetherington continues to earn strong respect in the Sydney market with one peer noting “he’s a solid operator who knows what he’s doing”.
Despite is 2012 Australian launch, Clyde & Co’s Australian operations lacked a genuine transport presence until the firm lured from HWL Ebsworth Partner Maurice Thompson to launch its Melbourne office. Thompson’s strong reputation in both the Victorian and Western Australian markets was noted with one peer commenting “I think that given his practice, his personality and the brand they will do very well in the longer term”.
Cocks Macnish continues to dominate the Western Australian transport market with one peer noting “Tim (Cocks) is just in everything over there”.
With veteran John Farquharson in Perth still going strong and the emergence of Melbourne-based Special Counsel Naomi Miller as a force, DLA Piper have climbed up our firm rankings. Farquharson was described as “a gentleman and a scholar” and “getting on but still very much at the top of his game”.
It’s not unreasonable to say that Holman Fenwick Willan have now established themselves as the strongest transport team in the Australian legal market. The firm’s strength in insurance related matters was never in question however the firm’s recent track record in extending itself into the commercial and regulatory aspects of the area was regularly noticed. Partner Robert Springall remains “a standout” and “as good as it gets” and while Gavin Vallely was not as prominent due to significant management responsibilities he was viewed as “a great guy who really knows what he’s doing”. Young Sydney based Partner Nic van der Reyden also drew praise for his “commerciality” and “realistic approach”.
HWL Ebsworth, while ranked in our First Tier of firms hold that position cautiously with the departure of Maurice Thompson (Melbourne) and Holman Fenwick Willan’s increasing presence may have dropped the firm’s standing somwwhat. Nonetheless, for now at least, the depth and quality of the firm’s Transport team in Australia’s most important market (Sydney) ensures the firm remains in our First Tier. Team leader Joe Hurley and fellow Sydney Partner Danella Wilmshurst continue to be singled out for their expertise on P&I matters while Jesper Martin’s work and technical knowledge of cargo related matters was praised by peers.
K&L Gates generally as well as the skills of Partner Stephen Thompson and Special Counsel Chris Keane were singled out for their work on the regulatory aspects of transport matters.
M + K Lawyers’ Geoff Farnsworth was viewed as “particularly active” in the Sydney transport market with Farnsworth being noted as “very strong on insurance matters”.
While the firm’s presence in the Australian Transport market is still significantly shy of that it holds in the UK, Norton Rose has made strides ahead in the last eighteen months. Partner Ernie Van Buuren continues to “a great operator” and has “a broad skill set that few others do” while Special Counsel Michelle Taylor was also noted.
Thynne & Macartney’s presence in the Queensland market appears to have reduced however this is likely due to the overall reduction in P&A/insurance related work that the firm is well regarded for.