Transport, normally one of the quieter and more stable areas of the Australian legal market, became an area of interest in 2014.
Much of this new interest in the areawas driven by the always aggressive Australian mid-tier firms and continues to be so in 2015. In fairness it’s not like the mid-tier ever actually lacked interest in the area but, rather that mid-tier firms who previously had offered little in the way of commitment to the area began to make significant efforts to establish a presence in the space.
In short, when you get it right a good transport practice delivers a consistency of billing and moderate profitability that keeps the bean counters happy… and that’s the mid-tier mantra. Whether or not some of the market’s new entrants and/or lesser players can continue to hit such financial targets in an increasingly fragmented and commercial market is anyone’s guess.
Moves, Moves & More Moves
In the latter half of 2014 roughly 20% of our ranked lawyers upped sticks and moved to a new firm. First Hazel Brasington left Holman Fenwick Willan to join Norton Rose in August, then in September the trio of Danella Wilmshurst, Geoff Farnsworth and Nathan Cecil joined Holding Redlich and then finally in November Frazer Hunt moved from Piper Alderman to Mills Oakley.
That’s a lot of moves in a short time-frame but what was most unusual about each move was that, unlike the majority of recent lateral moves in the broader Australian legal market, all of these individuals effectively swapped like for like. There was no move from local firm to international firm (or vice versa) or the standard larger firm to smaller firm style move. It’s certainly still too early to determine whether such moves have been a success however early stage impact appears to have been more about the movements themselves rather than the market impact each has had.
The Gap Narrows
Having weathered personnel departures and increased market competition, Holman Fenwick Willan and HWL Ebsworth continue to enjoy a strength of market positioning brought about largely by quality of personnel and the size of each firm’s transport group.
In shipping at least the gap between these two firms and rest of the market has narrowed. HWL Ebsworth’s Joe Hurley remains one of the market’s most respected practitioners and the driving force of the firm’s transport practice, however within our shipping rankings HWL Ebsworth’s only other featured individual is aviation expert Simon Liddy. With other firm’s having increased the size of their transport team and extending their geographical reach there’s potential for the gap to close further. Similarly at Holman Fenwick, Robert Springall remains at the top of his game but Gavin Vallely continues to have a reduced local market impact due to management responsibilities leaving HFW also appearing a little more vulnerable than they have historically been.
With the abovementioned hungry mid-tier firms and Clyde & Co also looking to increase an already impressive presence there may well be some changes at the upper levels of our Transport rankings in 2016.