Employment Analysis 2009 Summary & 2010 Watch List
Employment Analysis: 2009 Summary & 2010 Watch List
About Australasian Legal Business magazine 2
Chapter 1: Employers of Choice Survey for 2009 3
Chapter 2: Employers of Choice - Top Firms of Australia 5
Chapter 3: ALB 30 - Australasia’s Largest Firms 10
Chapter 4: ALB Fast 10 - Fastest Growing Firms 18
Chapter 5: Career Tips 25
• Courses for Career Advancement
• Brains VS beauty in the job market
• Law: a springboard to corporate glory
• 7 ways to screw up your legal career
Chatper 6: Salary survey reveals top opportunities 51
Chapter 7: Watch list – Firms to Watch in 2010 53
A series of valuable extracts from some of the top content of 2009 and 2010 as featured in
ALB magazine and Legal Jobs Centre.
Prepared by Chris Redshaw, Online Analyst
t: +61 2 8437 4723
About Australasian Legal Business (ALB) magazine:
ALB is the only independent magazine dedicated to the latest legal news, events and
developments in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Asia and the international business
With a circulation throughout Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, along with parts of
Japan, Taiwan and Korea, ALB is the region's most effective way to reach all the major
lawyers, corporate counsel and business leaders. With coverage on all the important and
emerging areas of practice and business, ALB provides the most updated legal and business
news from in and around the region.
Each issue contains in-depth features examining changes in legislation, important areas of
practice, and overseas jurisdictions along with revealing profiles of major industry leaders.
In conjunction with its print publications, ALB also produces ALB legal news, ALB legal deals
and legal jobs featuring the most up to date legal positions throughout the Asia-Pacific.
One of Asia-Pacific's leading media companies, Key Media provides specialist publications,
websites, events and business conferences focused on the needs of professionals, senior
executives and business leaders. Offices in Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, and
Toronto give the company exceptional reach and exposure to industry developments across
Key Media is a leading organiser of conferences, gala dinners, award ceremonies and events.
Combined these include a packed calendar of professional education (to include conferences
and seminars), trade shows, industry summits and award ceremonies. Our events are
designed to cater to the needs of professionals, senior executives and business leaders.
Chapter 1: Employers of Choice Survey ‐ 2009
With the talent market becoming more competitive, ALB's extensive Employer of Choice
Survey 2009 investigates which firms warrant the title, and why.
As the financial crisis sweeps over law firms across the UK, the US and ‐ to a lesser extent ‐
Australasia, employers are faced with the task of balancing firm finance with staff needs.
Consequently, organisational structures become leaner, redundancies are announced and
performance management is prioritised. The result is that the balance of power between
lawyers and recruiters tilts in favour of the latter, who are directing their focus towards the
more experienced end of the market. Additionally, as international market conditions
prompt droves of skilled lawyers based overseas to return home, undoubtedly firms will still
be on the lookout to attract the cream of the crop ‐ and retain it.
At the same time, high‐achieving lawyers will be seeking to integrate their skills, values and
career aspirations in a culture that meets their equally high expectations. Against this
backdrop, the timing could not be better for ALB to unveil the region’s top firms ‐ as
revealed by the lawyers they employ.
Beggars and choosers
Redundancies, salary freezes, equity contributions. With these buzz words circulating in the
legal industry lately it’s no wonder that lawyers and firms alike are anxious about the
employment landscape. The discrepancy in firm management may have been evident for
some lawyers who read the recent announcements with curiosity as some associates were
elevated to partnership, while a significant number of others were made redundant. But
that is not to say it has been an easy ride for employers either. The challenge for them all
over the last few months has been how to consider firm finances without damaging staff
morale. Tightening the budget has become a very dicey walk on the tightrope between
keeping staff reassured and corporate structure stable.
With this in mind, ALB’s employer of choice survey has never been more topical. The firms
that led the pack this year as the region’s top employers have come to the forefront for
several reasons ‐ not only for recognition in a difficult employment market. From the ones
rated highly for their quality of work to those scoring well for professional development
initiatives, this year’s Employers of Choice have got it right when it comes to attracting
The online survey was conducted during December 2008‐February 2009, and sent out to
more than 20,000 lawyers in the Asia‐Pacific. In Australia and New Zealand, respondents'
level of experience and position titles varied, with the majority calling themselves simply
''lawyers''. This was followed closely by those identifying themselves as senior associates.
Lawyers’ length of service was either long or short. More than half the respondents said they
have spent one to two years with their current firm, while 24% said it was more than six.
Insufficient data received from in‐house teams meant conclusions drawn were not
sufficiently meaningful to include them in the EOC ranks.
Bills, bills, bills
Like last year, lawyers remained content with what they believe to be reasonable billing
hours. Most Australian and New Zealand‐based lawyers recorded a target of seven hours.
"Billable‐hour targets are too low for employed solicitors, but could be reduced for salaried
partners (like me) with extensive marketing and practice‐building responsibilities,"
suggested an Australia‐based partner. Nevertheless, over 85% of Australian respondents
thought that billable‐hour targets were reasonable.
To move or not to move: what motivates lawyers
Management take note: lawyers stated that a firm’s reputation and value rest on whether it
fosters its culture and better work/life balance, which far outweighed other factors such as
partnership prospects or firm size. Teamwork, assertive colleagues and a positive work
environment featured heavily on lawyers'' agendas.
One respondent, particularly, summed it up: "Fit is all‐important. Meshing into the culture of
a firm can make your life a misery or a delight, given the number of hours you spend at
work." For some lawyers there were other issues to motivate their move: "The support and
independence available to me in managing my work and assignments, and developing client
relationships is also very important," said one respondent. Interestingly, 77% chose quality
of work over reputation ‐ which followed closely. Surprisingly, while compensation ranked
high as a potential reason to move, it was not quite as high as work/life balance. One
Australian lawyer summed it up this way: "The type of work is certainly more important than
anything else ‐ although this is assuming a competitive salary."
However, balancing work and life was high on the list for lawyers based in Australia and New
Zealand. An Australian lawyer provided their reasoning: "Firm culture can be perceived by
the type of people they take in. So if you know a few people working at the firm already, and
they seem to be your type, that’s a great sign."
Making the regional jump
Despite voicing their concerns about firm life and the factors motivating their move, lawyers
this year will be sitting firmly in their current positions to ride out the financial crisis. In
uncertain employment markets, it was not surprising that a firm ''no'' (81% of lawyers) was
given among Australian and New Zealand lawyers when they were asked if they would
consider moving firms in the current market. ''Undecided'' made up 11%, while a bold 7%
said they were likely to move, although some within these ranks noted they would only do
so for an opportunity that was absolutely secure. The overall sentiment was captured in one
particular response: "While I would be interested in moving, with the current economic
downturn, there do not appear to be too many law firms recruiting and, as a result, a move
may not be possible." However, where opportunities are available, most Australian and New
Zealand based lawyers would choose the UK and Asia as their preferred jurisdiction,
followed closely by the United States, while Europe and the Middle East were not as popular
Chapter 2: Employers of Choice ‐ Top Firms of Australia
Not surprisingly, two of last year’s winners appeared again in this year’s edition ‐ one of
them, Mallesons Stephen Jaques. Keeping an ear to the ground forms part of the firm’s
initiatives to maintain its high ranking as one of Australia’s leading employers of choice. "Our
people tell us they want to work closely with clients, be involved in planning matters and
have opportunities to learn and stretch on the job," said managing partners Stuart Fuller and
Tony O''Malley in a joint statement. "As a result, our leadership development programs over
the last few years have placed a strong emphasis on delegation and coaching skills, and
involving junior lawyers from the outset in understanding a client’s business, priorities and
challenges, not just the legal issues."
Consolidating this over the next few years has become a priority for the firm, which is
launching an International Graduate Program in 2010, in response to demand for more
opportunities for graduates. "It certainly doesn't hurt to have a strong reputation in the
market when it comes to recruiting summer clerks, lateral lawyers and professional staff.
While the GFC may have slowed the war for talent, it is critical that we continue to focus on
our reputation as an employer over the longer term, so we are well positioned for the
inevitable pick‐up in the economy when it comes,” they added.
The other repeat performer from last year’s list is Corrs Chambers Westgarth and one of the
areas in which it stood out among employees was in terms of the quality of work on offer,
which ‐ according to the survey results ‐ is the most important factor when choosing a firm.
"Our people have the opportunity to be involved in some of the most interesting, high‐
profile work in the Australian market today, working with some of the best lawyers in the
business. Corrs has worked hard to continue to strengthen its portfolio of large clients and
share of landmark deals," says executive director of human resources Cindy Carpenter, and
adds that the firm has taken positive steps to ensure the achievement was adequately
rewarded. "In 2007, Corrs launched a new compensation system called Rewarding Excellent
Performance. This system has three objectives: to ensure our remuneration remains very
competitive with top‐tier firm benchmarks, to differentiate remuneration on the basis of
individual performance and to make the principles of performance review transparent. The
firm delivers on each of these objectives and is assisted in this regard by rigorous salary
benchmarking," she states.
Thynne & McCartney, which was also rated one of Australia’s employers of choice, has
adopted a similar approach. "We encourage our staff to take an active role in deciding what
remuneration they deserve," says the firm’s human resources manager, Lyn O''Neil. "Our
staff are not paid in bands or years of experience but rewarded based on merit and
performance." Corrs has also reaped the rewards of a collaborative approach. "We seek
regular feedback and involvement from our people as to what is working well and what
isn''t, and take direct action where required. We are committed to providing an inspiring
workplace which truly engages our people," says Carpenter.
Blake Dawson is another employer of choice and, according to deputy managing partner
Helen McKenzie, its employees come first. "The firm’s strategy for many years has been
centred on its people," she says, "and this explicit recognition that the key to delivering
excellent client service lies in recruiting and developing outstanding lawyers means that, as
an organisation, we strive to create an environment that enables all members of the firm to
achieve their potential."
The other firm that made the list this year is multiple‐award‐winning law firm, Swaab
Attorneys. According to CEO Bronwyn Potts, the firm is not only in search of great lawyers,
but also great people. "The first hurdle for candidates is that they have to be really nice
people," she says. "There is a genuine commitment by the partners to ensure that the
younger lawyers are interested and engaged ‐ they are the future of the firm," she explains.
Partner Fredrick Swaab is in agreement, and adds that being a small firm put even greater
emphasis on the need to create an employee‐friendly culture. "We are not a large firm so
our employees are very precious and as we can’t afford a lot of turnover, we need to keep
them engaged," he states.
Swaab acknowledges that attracting the cream of the crop has not always been easy. "About
six years ago, when we re‐branded the firm, we saw that it was going to be hard to attract
those ''young upwardly mobile'' new partners. Until you get a profile in the industry, it’s
difficult to get recruiters to refer good people to you, because they won''t invest their CV in
a smaller firm if they feel that it’s going to denigrate them in the eyes of their peers. So,
once we started winning awards, it was whole different ball game ‐ because they knew they
were joining a law firm that is the best in its category," he declares.
In New Zealand, Russell McVeagh, Chapman Tripp and Buddle Findlay were rated as the best
firms to work for. Buddle Findlay’s Chair, Peter Chemis, says the firm has always considered
quality of work as a top priority. "We are delighted to be acknowledged as one of New
Zealand’s great places to work. Buddle Findlay has always placed a real emphasis on quality
work and quality people, and recognises that to retain staff and stimulate them, we must
provide a broad range of challenging work and dedicated support at all levels," he states.
The firm has also invested heavily in developing tomorrow’s leaders. "We expect our lawyers
to become leaders in their field and to play a leadership role in the firm, whatever their age
or level of experience ‐ and this plays its part in making Buddle Findlay a great place to
work," he adds.
This article first appeared in ALB's March issue 2009 – ALB Employers of Choice 2010 will be
announced in March 2010.
Russell McVeagh CEO Gary McDiarmid says the firm branding is to attract top recruits.
Russell McVeagh has a very strong brand ‐ both in general terms as well as an employment
brand. "We survey extensively and we have found that the brand does serve to attract top
people to the firm. We are approached on a regular basis by talented lawyers, based both
offshore and in New Zealand. We are always in the market for top people," McDiarmid says.
EMPLOYERS OF CHOICE -
• Blake Dawson
• Corrs Chambers Westgarth
• Gilbert + Tobin
• Mallesons Stephen Jacques
• McCullough Robertson
• Swaab Attorneys
• Thynne & McCartney
EMPLOYERS OF CHOICE -
• Bell Gully
• Buddle Findlay
• Chapman Tripp
• Russell McVeagh
ALB’s Employers of Choice 2009 - top firms in the Gulf/Asian jurisdictions
• Denton Wilde Sapte
• Fichte & Co
• Simmons & Simmons
• Norton Rose
• Al Tamimi & Company
CHINA - DOMESTIC FIRMS
• King & Wood
• Jun He Law Offices
• Wang Jing & Co
• Llinks Law Offices
• Deheng Law Firm
CHINA - INTERNATIONAL FIRMS
• Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
• Jones Day
• Paul Hastings
• Allen & Overy
• White & Case
JAPAN - INTERNATIONAL FIRMS
• Davis Polk & Wardwell
• Bingham McCutchen
• Milbank Tweed Hadley McCloy
• Fredrick Swaab, Swaab Attorneys
• LCS & Partners
• Tsai & Tsai
• Formosa Transnational
• Zul Rafique & Partners
• Zaid Ibrahim & Co
• Shearn Delamore & Co
• Clifford Chance
• Slaughter & May
• Melli Darsa
• Hadiputranto Hadinoto & Partners
• Ali Budiardjo, Nugroho, Reksodiputro
• Amarchand & Mangaldas
• AZB & Partners
• Luthra & Luthra
• J Sagar & Associates
• Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles
• Sycip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan
• Kim & Chang
Lee & Ko
• Shin & Kim
Chapter 3: ALB 30 ‐ Australasia’s Largest Firms
Australasia’s largest firms had a good start to the 2007–08 financial year, but halfway
through the year clouds started to gather when it became evident that the effects of the
subprime mortgage crisis in the US would spread across the globe. Managing partners,
however, have remained stoically optimistic and have the figures to back it up
“Capitalism without financial failure is not capitalism at all, but a kind of socialism for the
rich,” wrote James Grant, editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, in an opinion article in
The New York Times at the end of 2007. He made the comment in an article that criticised
the US Federal Reserve Bank’s policy of lowering interest rates to avoid deflation at all costs,
which he felt contributed to the subprime crisis having such a severe impact on the US
Grant argued that downturns in economic cycles are necessary to return to healthy
borrowing and lending patterns, and thus to a healthy economy. Inevitable as it might be, it
does mean that many economies across the globe are currently faced with the realities of
reduced liquidity in the markets.
From the second half of the financial year 2007–08, Australasian law firms started to feel the
effects of the global liquidity shortage in their banking and finance practices, and, to a lesser
degree, in their M&A practices, where fewer deals have been taken to the table. “There
certainly are a lot of corporate transactions that are waiting for the go‐ahead once there is
more stability in the market,” says David Fagan, chief executive partner of Clayton Utz. His
colleague in New Zealand, CEO Gary McDiarmid of Russell McVeagh, agrees. “M&A work is
very quiet; anyone that says differently is delusional.”
But as the economy slows down, the number of businesses that get into problems increases,
which leads to more work for a firm’s insolvency and restructuring practice. Therefore, for
many firms the change in the economic climate has meant a shift in the type of work. “If you
have styled your firm around one type of work, you lose out in the shift that has taken
place,” says Robert Milliner, chief executive partner of Mallesons Stephen Jaques. “For law
firms on the sophisticated end of the market, a recession means more work because a lot of
things need to be sorted out.”
Australasia’s 30 largest firms
Rank Firm Total Country Managing Total Total No of
lawyers/ of origin partner/CEO lawyers partners offices
1 Minter Ellison 1031 Australia Guy 764 267 10
2 Mallesons 949 Australia Robert 770 179 5
Stephen Jaques Milliner
3 Clayton Utz 867 Australia David Fagan 643 224 6
4 Freehills* 832 Australia Gavin Bell 619 213 4
5 Allens Arthur 797 Australia Michael 627 170 4
6 DLA Phillips Fox 779 Australia Tony 619 160 8
7 Blake Dawson* 768 Australia John Atkin 590 178 5
8 Corrs Chambers 524 Australia John Denton 408 116 5
9 Deacons 472 Hong Don Boyd 262 210 5
10 Australian 391 Australia Rayne de 391 n/a 8
11 Gadens 368 Australia Ian Clarke 237 112 6
12 Baker & 315 US Mark 209 84 2
13 Sparke Helmore 298 Australia John Davis 240 58 8
14 Middletons 289 Australia Nick Nichola 230 59 2
15 Russell 271 New Gary 227 44 2
McVeagh Zealand McDiarmid
16 HWL Ebsworth 263 Australia Juan 165 98 7
17 Simpson 245 New Rob Fisher 197 48 2
18 Hunt & Hunt 229 Australia Maureen 156 73 10
19 Bell Gully 223 New Roger 180 43 2
20 Chapman Tripp 211 New Andrew 160 51 3
Zealand Poole, Mark
21 DibbsBarker 211 Australia Alan 141 70 5
22 Maddocks 196 Australia David 146 50 2
23 Henry Davis 178 Australia Sharon Cook 130 48 1
24 McCullough 170 Australia Brett 135 35 1
25 Gilbert + Tobin 160 Australia Danny 108 52 1
26 Holding Redlich 156 Australia Chris Lovell 112 44 3
27 Kensington 153 New Chris 111 39 2
Swan Zealand Heilbronn
28 Buddle Findlay 144 New Peter 107 37 3
29 Moray & Agnew 144 Australia Michael Pitt 91 53 5
30 Piper Alderman 143 Australia Gordon 92 51 4
* Freehills, Blake Dawson: FTEs submitted
Note: This table does not purport to be exhaustive. Figures are provided by the firms
themselves and are accurate to June 2008. Where firms are unable to supply figures,
websites have been used
Firms and figures
Mallesons is one of the Big Six firms that have done well, reporting revenue growth of
10.7%. The firm is closely followed by Clayton Utz, which reported an increase of 9% in
revenues, but top gong goes to Blake Dawson which realised an increase of 11.9%.
Although Minter Ellison is the largest law firm by total lawyer and partner numbers, it came
in as the fourth largest firm by revenues. Last year it was in third place but had to step down
in favour of Clayton Utz, whose consistently solid performance has placed it in the top three
Other remarkable performers were Gilbert + Tobin, which revealed a revenue increase of
14.9%, and Baker & McKenzie, which posted top line revenue growth of 13.2%. Meanwhile,
in the mid‐sized segment of the market, Holding Redlich (+20.4%) and Maddocks (+17.1%)
On the other side of the spectrum we find the Australian Government Solicitor, which saw
income increasing by just 1.8%, while Thomson Playford achieved only 1.1% growth. The
worst performer in the ALB revenues table, however, is TressCox, which reported a meagre
0.5% increase in revenues.
New Zealand’s secrets
Many firms in New Zealand have a financial year that corresponds with the calendar year
and, therefore, they are halfway through their financial year. In 2007, Bell Gully broke
through the NZ$100m mark, says the firm’s CEO, Stephen Macliver. “We have comfortably
exceeded 100 million dollars for the first year ever. It was a significant double‐digit uplift on
Macliver did not want to specify by how much the firm has broken the mark, but in the New
Zealand tradition his remarks are already generous. While in many countries law firms are
moving towards more transparency, with the UK leading the way by publishing profits per
partner, most firms in New Zealand don’t reveal any financial details and, instead, claim
every year to have realised another record year of growth. The reason for this shyness
seems to have been lost in the catacombs of tradition. “There hasn’t been a history of, or
demand for, disclosure of this specific financial information,” offers Macliver.
For future revenue growth, many law firms rely on expanding the share of work that comes
in from outside national boundaries. Mallesons’ Robert Milliner expects the highest growth
to come from the Asia region. “Growth in Australia will be moderate, as opposed to high
growth in Asia,” he says. But despite the opportunities there, he is not looking for hasty
expansion. “It’s not a question of having dots on a map; we want to build solid offices and do
things that we do really well. Our priority is to build up the Beijing and Shanghai offices to
the same level as our Hong Kong office.”
Australian law firms have taken different views on the best way to reel in international
advisory work. On one hand there are firms such as Mallesons and Minters that which have
set up extensive networks of offices in the Asia‐Pacific region. On the other hand there are
firms that favour law firm alliances, such as Clayton Utz which is the Lex Mundi member for
Australia. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to matter which approach is taken as the share of
revenue coming from cross‐border work is roughly the same. All of the firms mentioned
above estimate that the percentage of revenue coming from offshore activities amounts to
“Each firm has their own strategy that they are pursuing and different people have different
views on what works best,” says David Fagan. “For us, the approach we’ve taken is quite
successful. We’ve committed a lot to our regional offices. For example, our Perth office will
grow this year by about 18% to A$45m in revenues. In the last three years, our Brisbane
office has doubled in size and this year we expect the office to contribute about A$80m.
There are not many firms in our area that have significant offices in Perth and Brisbane.”
Clayton Utz might not have offices in Asia, but it does have partners on the ground there,
sometimes for extended periods of time. “We have had a number of lawyers and partners
based in Taipei for the last five years, working on the Taiwan high‐speed rail project. We
have a large power project in Vietnam and we’ve been running litigation in Kazakhstan; it
ranges all across the globe.” Fagan says the decision not to set up offices in these
jurisdictions is largely explained by cost control. “You can have an offshore office that
wouldn’t even contribute A$50m and you pay a lot of costs to service that office.”
For many law firms 2007–08 has been another good year in terms of revenue growth and
this seems to justify the unabated optimism of law firm managing partners. But there is a
catch to continued good conditions, warns James Grant in his before‐mentioned opinion
piece. “People get carried away, prices go too high and economic resources go where they
shouldn’t.” Let’s hope that the legal industry is the proverbial exception to the rule.
David Fagan – Clayton Utz
Clayton Utz is set to post revenue growth of 9% this financial year, an increase to A$470m
and another strong result after last year’s 11% increase. “It’s a year of two halves,” says
David Fagan, chief executive partner of Clayton Utz. “Up to December, it was a very buoyant
corporate and banking market, while beyond December it was a very buoyant litigation
It’s clear that the economic climate has changed since December, but Fagan says it’s not all
down to the liquidity crisis stemming from the subprime mortgage industry collapse in the
US. “The subprime crisis, the packing up mortgages with very problematic credit quality,
we’ve not had that here. In the US one in every five houses has had a foreclosure notice, in
Australia that’s 0.2%. We’ve not had that asset problem and, correspondingly, I don’t think
we’re going to have the litigation they had over subprime issues.”
Fagan does acknowledge that some of the fallout of the subprime crisis has trickled into the
Australian market and he says Clayton Utz is advising Lehman Brothers on products that the
financial services company sold into the Australian market. But the large corporate collapses
that Australia has seen in recent months are not tied to the US‐originated crisis, he argues.
“The work that is related to Allco, Centro and MFS, that is more about their business models
than the credit crunch.”
The slowdown in the Australian market is a result of the culmination of factors, including a
rising oil price, record low consumer confidence and fewer corporate sales, and there is no
telling when the climate will improve. The firm is, therefore, budgeting for more subdued
growth next year, says Fagan. “There is uncertainty in what the next 12 months will bring; a
degree of caution is probably sensible.”
John Denton – Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s revenues have increased by 3.4% to A$240m in the financial
year 2007/08. This is not quite as high an increase as in the previous years. Last year the firm
reported a growth of 11.5%, while over the last three years the firm’s total revenues grew by
25%. For next financial year, the firm is looking at single digit growth – around 5 – 6%.
Chief executive officer John Denton of Corrs says the slowdown in revenue growth is caused
by the firm’s efforts to develop its industry groups. “Partly, it is us doing things,” he says.
“We are very committed to our 2010 strategy and that does take up a lot of capacity. We’re
not skinnying the firm up here, we are investing very heavily in L&D [learning &
development] in particular, and in information systems.”
“We could suck in more revenue if we wanted to, and I do notice that used to be a focus of
some people in the market place, but what’s the point if you’re not generating additional
return from that? All you’re doing is adding revenue. We’re not competing on scale; we’re
large enough to do the big deals.”
Denton discards the idea that it’s the influence of the credit crunch. “What has been
surprising for us is how strong corporate advisory has actually been this year. We’ve closed
some pretty amazing deals; we’ve done five of the top 10 deals that have been closed. So
the areas that we are seen by some of our competitors as being softer, in fact, haven’t been
soft for us.”
Guy Templeton – Minter Ellison
Minter Ellison is the largest law firm in Australia by total lawyer numbers, but this financial
year the firm lost its place in the top three largest law firms by revenue to Clayton Utz.
Minters came in at fourth place, reporting A$460m in revenues, while its competitor posted
A$470 in revenues.
Despite having to digest a drop on the size‐by‐revenue ladder, Minters still managed to grow
revenues by 5.3%. CEO Guy Templeton says that the insolvency and restructuring practice
has been the main driver of growth. “We’ve maintained a full‐sized insolvency and
restructuring team throughout the boom times. That is now paying off,” he says. “Our
restructuring and workout team is firing in all cylinders; it’s one of our strongest areas.”
The firm is advising ANZ on the legal issues surrounding the collapse of stockbroker Opes
Prime and the bank’s exposure to Centro. It also continues to act for PwC as the liquidator of
seven of the mezzanine finance companies within the Westpoint Group.
Templeton says that inbound work from Asia has been unaffected by the global credit
crunch and he expects this to be one of the main drivers for the next financial year,
particularly for the firm’s energy and resources practice.
He also predicts a strong year for the firm’s infrastructure practice, driven by major projects
undertaken by state governments. For example, Minters advises the Port of Melbourne
Corporation on the channel deepening project. “[These projects are] starting to flow through
now. The pipeline for the whole of Australia has been full for some time and will remain so
for some time to come.”
Mark Leibler – Arnold Bloch Leibler
One of the most remarkable deals of last year was undoubtedly the public listing of plaintiff
firm Slater & Gordon. Not only did the IPO provide some challenging legal and regulatory
issues, but it also sparked a debated on the ethical merit of the adventure. Some critics said
the listing of a law firm would dilute the responsibility lawyers feel towards the court and
Arnold Bloch Leibler acted for the adventures law firm on the IPO and senior partner Mark
Leibler says he looks back on the transaction as one of the firm’s highlights of last year.
‘slater & Gordon probably has to stand out simply because of its uniqueness,” says Leibler
“This was the first time that a law firm – forgetting about Australia, but internationally – has
gone public. It raised a whole lot of interesting and fascinating issues, which had to be
considered, for the first time […], but we overcame them all and as you can see Slater &
Gordon are flourishing.”
But the successful listing hasn’t tempted the firm to go public themselves. “We have a
different model,” he says. “We don’t rule out anything, but at this moment I don’t see us
seriously heading in that direction.”
Arnold Bloch Leibler realised a healthy revenue growth of 7.6% in the financial year 2007/08.
Leibler expects to further grow the Sydney office of the firm. “There is a huge potential for
growth there,” he says. “We think there is going to be a lot more commercial litigation;
some things have gone wrong in the credit crisis.”
The expansion will depend largely on the ability to find the right people. “Because of the
economic downturn there will be a bit of a shakeout, but to get the right quality people is
Robert Milliner – Mallesons Stephen Jaques
Like the year before, Mallesons Stephen Jaques dominates the revenue table in the financial
year 2007/08. And what’s more, the firm has broken through the half a billion dollar barrier,
reporting a total revenue growth of 10.7% to A$545m.
It took the firm 175 years to get to this size, and so ALB magazine asked the firm’s CEO,
Robert Milliner, how long it will take before it reaches a revenue figure of a billion dollars?
“That’s a quantum jump,” says Milliner. “For the Australian firms, a billion dollars would not
be a sensible aspiration. It’s a very competitive market here; there are a lot of good firms. I
doubt that any Australian firm would think that doubling its size in Australia would make
But Milliner does aim high when talking about expansion in Asia. The firm generates roughly
10% of its revenues in the Asian region, particularly in China. Milliner says that although he
expects to grow moderately in Australia, the real growth story is in Asia. He wants to build
up the Beijing and Shanghai offices to the same size of the Hong Kong office, which has over
Milliner illustrates the importance of China for the Australian economy by a quote of Ian
MacFarlane, the former Governor of the Reserve Bank, who said that Australia’s economy is
simply a factor of the global economy. “That was true of the early 2000s,” says Milliner.
“Interestingly, the resources dependence of China has made it more the case that Australia’s
economy is a factor of China’s economy.”
Although some have doubted the profitability of the Asian adventure, Milliner waves away
this criticism. “This used to be the classic rhetoric of the early 2000s: you don’t want to
invest offshore because you can’t make any profit out of those offices. Well, I can tell you
that we can make very significant profits out of our Asian offices.”
Chapter 4: ALB Fast 10 ‐ Fastest Growing Firms
This year’s Fast 10 reflects an industry in transition – mergers, listed firms and the GFC have
all made their impact on the composition of the 2009 list. This also promises to be one of the
most controversial Fast 10 features ever published. What constitutes “growth”? What
constitutes a “law firm”? As will become clear, industry change is posing new questions and
there is no consensus yet on the correct answers.
Organic growth or merger growth?
This year’s Fast 10 reflects an increasing number of firms which have achieved their growth
through mergers. This is not a completely new phenomenon – last year’s winner, Thynne &
Macartney, achieved some of its growth courtesy of a merger with fellow Queensland firm
Biggs & Biggs.
However, as the mid‐tier consolidates, mergers are having an increased impact on the Fast
10. This presents a dilemma. On the one hand, it is important to acknowledge the efforts of
firms which have achieved growth as a result of shrewd leadership and superior client
service. Organic growth is undoubtedly a key benchmark of a high‐performing firm.
The Fast 10 list is based on a survey sent to over 100 firms in Australia and New Zealand.
Only firms which completed the survey were considered for inclusion in the Fast 10.
The primary criterion for inclusion was percentage revenue growth for the 2009 financial
year and to a lesser degree growth in fee earners. Figures were supplied by the firms
themselves and only firms with at least ten lawyers were eligible for consideration. All
growth figures and percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.
On the other hand, the purpose of the Fast 10 is to simply provide a guide to the fastest‐
growing firms and to leave the market to draw its own conclusions as to the merits of the
particular growth strategies employed. Given the pattern of mid‐tier consolidation over the
past two years, it is also arguable that excluding merged firms would provide an incomplete
Another complication is demonstrated by Thomson Playford Cutlers, who lost their
insurance arm in 2008 with the secession of breakaway firm Gilchrist Connell, yet gained
Cutler Hughes Harris in Sydney and Dibbs Abbott Stillman in Melbourne. So how would one
calculate organic growth in such a scenario?
This year the format of the Fast 10 remains unchanged, with law firms being assessed on
overall revenue growth. However, we make particular acknowledgment of the firms which
have grown organically – and in particular, we congratulate Wotton + Kearney on its
achievement of 37%organic growth.
Henry Davis York, Hall & Wilcox and Mills Oakley are other examples of firms that have
eschewed mergers and still made the Fast 10.
Listed and aggregate firms
The issue of whether acquisitions should be counted in revenue growth was accentuated by
a strong showing from listed firms Slater & Gordon and Integrated Legal Holdings, both of
which have employed an aggressive acquisition strategy. However, Slater & Gordon’s
Andrew Grech points out that half of the firm’s revenue growth can be attributed to organic
“Most of our work is done on a fixed‐fee basis – our rates have remained consistent and the
(organic) growth has come from increased activity and market share,” Grech says. The Slater
& Gordon model might not appeal to everyone, but he is proud of the profile the firm has
built – not just in the legal profession but in the wider community. “Love us or hate us,
everyone knows who we are,” he says.
The arrival of Integrated Legal Holdings in the Fast 10 complicates the picture further. Under
the ILH model, firms acquired by ILH retain their existing branding. Partners are encouraged
to continue with the day‐to‐day responsibility and accountability for business strategy and
management, within the broad direction set by ILH.
“Our strategy is all about identifying very good medium‐sized law firms to join the group
through acquisition, and then supporting these member firms as part of a national network,”
says the managing director Graeme Fowler, “particularly towards achieving above market
growth and improved business performance.”
With revenue growth of 59%, there’s no doubt about the ‘fast’ side of the equation – but is
ILH actually a law firm? The lack of unified brand would seem to suggest otherwise, but
Fowler has no doubt. “Of course we’re a firm,” he says emphatically. “We’re an organisation
carrying on a legal services business – but with a different structure.” Fowler’s view is
supported by the existence of an integrated growth strategy for firms within the group, as
well as the fact that ILH reports financially as a single entity.
Nonetheless, ALB acknowledges that the decision to include the group will be controversial –
and disappointing to traditional firms such as Herbert Geer, which can justifiably take pride
in the cohesive growth culture which they have built under a single brand.
The growth figures in this year’s Fast 10 revenues are not dramatically different from those
of FY2008, due partially to the artificial inflation of revenue growth caused by mergers. For
example, the fastest‐growing firm recorded 53% revenue growth in 2008 and 59% in 2009,
with both winners having had the benefit of M&A’s.
The fastest organic growth firm (Wotton + Kearney) still recorded 37% growth – which is on
par with the fastest organic growth law firm in 2008. At the bottom end of the scale, the
tenth‐placed firm (Curwoods) recorded 9% revenue growth, which is again on par with the
tenth‐placed firm in last year’s Fast 10 list (Cooper Grace Ward, 9%).
This, of course, does not imply that firm revenues have remained steady throughout the
GFC. The real story lies with the law firms which are not on this year’s Fast 10. Some firms
that made last year’s list declined to participate in 2009, frankly conceding that their growth
wouldn’t warrant a spot. Other Fast 10 stalwarts such as Moray & Agnew, Holding Redlich
and Duncan Cotterill produced creditable results, but narrowly missed the cut. Mills Oakley
and Hall & Wilcox, who are both appearing in the Fast 10 for a third consecutive year, both
recorded growth below 2008 levels.
For obvious reasons, it is easier for smaller firms to record high revenue growth. In this
context, special mention should be made of the stellar results produced by some of the
bigger players: Piper Alderman (8% growth), Clayton Utz (5% growth) and Minter Ellison (5%
growth). They didn’t make the list, but this surely must be food for thought for readers who
are students of top‐tier fortunes.
Integrated Legal Holdings is the shock winner of the 2009 Fast 10. ILH earned A$17m in
revenue last year – and an important contributor to this growth was the acquisition of the
firms Argyle Lawyers in November 2008 and mda lawyers in March 2009.
ILH plans to develop a national network of leading law firms in the capital cities and other
key centres across Australia. “We are very selective and incremental in our acquisition
strategy,” says managing director Fowler. “We are targeting 15‐20 medium sized firms to
join the group over the next 5‐10 years.” Fowler says that he will be looking to recruit firms
with an annual fee income of between A$4m‐A$8m and with strong growth prospects. The
firms will be expected to at least double fee income in three to five years.
He says there should be no shortage of potential candidates, as according to his estimates
there are at least 150 law firms in ILH’s target medium‐sized firm group, in what he
describes as a “fragmented” industry. “We are after good people who know how to grow a
successful business and want to leverage the benefits of the listed company environment to
take their business to the next stages and well beyond,” says Fowler.
These benefits include access to capital for growth, the resources and tools to attract and
retain the best lawyers and clients in target markets, and the leverage of a national network
combined with the offerings of a small‐firm mentality approach.
“We apply a performance‐based remuneration structure to incentivise growth and
improvement in the businesses, and all principals and most staff are shareholders, which
incentivises working together,” he says.
In recent years, the Fast 10 has been decided largely on revenue results, with a small
weighting added for fee‐earner growth. This is done in order to acknowledge the firms that
have continued to provide employment to the profession, or even added lawyers to their
payroll during difficult times. The weighting is kept to 20% in order not to skew the nature
of the Fast 10 as a predominantly revenue‐based survey.
The fee‐earner growth component needs to be taken into account when looking at the
survey results. For example, Thomson Playford had 36% growth in fee‐earners, which
allowed it to leapfrog other firms with higher revenue growth. This occurred only by the
smallest margin – Thomson Playford, Henry Davis York and Mills Oakley all attained the
same weighted score, with the final ranking coming down to decimal places.
10. Curwoods Lawyers
Managing partner: Scott Kennedy
Revenue growth: 9%
Partners: 11 (22% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 31 (35% growth)
This Sydney‐based firm is a newcomer to the Fast 10 but not to solid growth. Curwoods has
achieved double‐digit growth in each of the past four years, slipping just slightly to 9% in
2009. Curwoods’ highly targeted areas of specialisation include insurance, dispute resolution
and construction, with managing partner Scott Kennedy saying that all practice areas are
performing equally well. He describes the firm’s growth strategy as one of “organic growth,
while identifying individual lateral recruits whose practices are both a strategic and cultural
fit.” The firm has had to expand its premises as a result of the growth and is looking to
continue growing in 2010 with, inter alia, strategic lateral recruitment in the insurance area.
Aged 37, Kennedy may well be the youngest‐ever managing partner to grace the pages of
the Fast 10.
9. Hall & Wilcox
Managing partner: Tony Macvean
Revenue growth: 14%
Partners: 28 (12% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 71 (15% growth)
Hall & Wilcox earned A$31m in 2009, which managing partner Tony Macvean says is
vindication of a “multi‐focus” strategy. The firm has invested in areas such as litigation,
insolvency, Workcover and employment law, which have held up well during the economic
downturn. Macvean says that the firm’s private client practice, covering areas such as family
law and wealth management, has also been strong.
In contrast to rivals which have opened offices in Sydney and Brisbane, the Hall & Wilcox
strategy is to focus on Melbourne and to nurture quality and firm culture in that core
market. However, Macvean points out that the firm’s work is not necessarily Melbourne‐
8. Mills Oakley
CEO: John Nerurker
Revenue growth: 16%
Partners: 25 (25% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 61 (8% growth)
Mills Oakley recorded its fifth consecutive year of double‐digit growth in 2009 and while it’s
early days yet, CEO John Nerurker says that 2010 is on track to deliver more of the same.
The firm is buoyed by prestigious panel appointments including Telstra, GPT, Perpetual and
Suncorp‐Metway. The firm’s strategy of diversifying its offerings, particularly in counter‐
cyclical practice areas, and reinforcing its market position and geographic presence has
served it well throughout the downturn.
The firm earned A$31m last year but represents the dilemma of growth. While spectacular
growth is possible with mergers, Mills Oakley has not gone down this path. Nerurker is
proud of the fact that the firm is consistently able to make the Fast 10 on the back of organic
growth. He says that Mills Oakley‐ won’t compromise the quality of its partnership or brand
for the sake of short‐term growth.
7. Henry Davis York
Managing partner: Sharon Cook
Revenue growth: 16%
Partners: 48 (‐4% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 159 (10% growth)
Henry Davis York earned A$85m in revenue, which managing partner Cook attributes to
strong performance in key practice areas. Revenue in the public sector practice was up by
39%; in the insolvency and restructuring practice revenue was up by 26%.
Henry Davis York is committed to “sustainable and organic growth” and rarely recruits
partners from outside the firm, preferring a “grow your own” culture. This is a sharp
distinction from the approach adopted by most other Fast 10 firms. Cook predicts that the
firm will have a strong 2010 as a result of increased activity in both the litigation and public
6. Thomson Playford Cutlers
Chief executive partner: Adrian Tembel
Revenue growth: 10%
Partners: 47 (27% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 141 (36% growth)
Strong fee‐earner growth saw Thomson Playford advance up this year’s Fast 10. It is difficult
to assess how much of the firm’s growth is organic – Thomson’s has had an eventful year in
which the insurance practice broke away, with mutual agreement, to form the boutique firm
Gilchrist Connell. Thomsons then linked up with Cutler Hughes Harris in Sydney and Dibbs
Abbott Stillman in Melbourne, giving the firm a solid East Coast presence. Growth is spread
evenly across the offices, with the litigation practice being a particular highlight, recording
While CEP Adrian Tembel says the firm will be in consolidation mode over the next few
months, he expects that it will revisit the issue of geographic coverage and possible further
expansion in mid 2010. Thomson Playford also won the prize for Adelaide firm of the year at
this year’s ALB Awards.
5. M+K Lawyers
Managing director: Damian Paul
Revenue growth: 21%
Partners: 29 (24% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 48 (‐12% growth)
M+K Lawyers earned A$24m in revenue last financial year. While the firm has been in
expansion mode, acquisition activity has been limited to sole partner practices, which have
been built up with lateral hires. MD Paul attributes a large part of the firm’s growth to the
quality of the partnership (or principals, to use M+K’s terminology) and the confidence with
which work can be referred between partners and the referral of work via client word of
mouth. M+K is expecting to acquire its first multi‐partner firm in 2010. Paul attributes much
of the 2009 growth to the firm’s Sydney offices, but predicts that the Victorian offices will
see as much as 25% growth this year. And don’t be surprised if M+K makes a foray into a
new market in 2010 either.
4. Slater & Gordon
Managing director: Andrew Grech
Revenue growth: 29%
Other fee‐earners: 197 (13% growth)
Slater & Gordon earned A$103m in revenue last year. The firm had an aggressive growth
strategy which saw the acquisition of six firms, however managing director Andrew Grech
points out that half of the firm’s revenue growth can be attributed to organic growth.
In addition to its signature personal injury and litigation practices, Slater & Gordon is
working to broaden its service offering and diversify away from its Melbourne base. Forty
five per cent of the firm’s total revenue was derived from outside Victoria last year.
3. Wotton + Kearney
Managing partner: David Kearney
Revenue growth: 37%
Partners: 10 (11% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 36 (29% growth)
Some readers believe the Fast 10 should be determined by reference to organic growth only.
Those readers can stop reading at the end of this page – your fastest organic growth firm is
Wotton + Kearney with 37% growth and no mergers. This is a nice way to cap off a year
which also saw the firm pick up the ‘Insurance Specialist Firm of the Year’ prize at the ALB
Wotton + Kearney earned A$15m last year with a strategic revamp which saw it offer
broader services, including regulatory work, insurance policy drafting and reinsurance work.
The Melbourne office, previously confined to particular areas such as D&O insurance, is now
providing a more complete service. The economic downturn has inevitably contributed to a
rise in claims work, although David Kearney estimates that this accounts for only about half
of revenue growth. The firm has also introduced a 9.5 day fortnight for lawyers, where
lawyers can take a paid half day to pursue professional development or simply have a break.
2. Herbert Geer
Managing partner: William Fazio
Revenue growth: 52%
Partners: 50 (14% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 90 (18% growth)
As far as the purists are concerned, Herbert Geer may be the “true” winner of this year’s
Fast 10. It’s certainly the fastest‐growing law firm under a unified brand and conventional
structure. Managing partner Fazio and his team deserve credit for their implementation of
an ambitious vision, to build a strong East Coast presence for Herbert Geer.
The firm earned A$54m in revenue in 2009, which is a remarkable 52% increase on 2008.
FY2009 was the first full year where the 2008 mergers with Brisbane firm Nicol Robinson
Halletts and Sydney firm Rivlin Deschamps Kelly could be taken into account. However, Fazio
says that the entire firm is benefiting from a new sense of self‐belief. A “growth mentality”
has seen recruitment occur across a broad range of practice areas in the existing business,
including insurance, superannuation and IT.
Fazio said that the firm was “comfortable” with the profitability side of the equation and
that growth in Sydney and Brisbane would continue to be a particular priority over the
coming year. Herbert Geer is also keeping an open mind on the possibility of further
1. Integrated Legal Holdings
Managing director: Graeme Fowler
Revenue growth: 59%
Partners: 16 (82% growth)
Other fee‐earners: 47 (76% growth)
Revenue growth of 59% is fast growth, but is it a “law firm”? ILH earned A$17m in revenue
last year with an acquisition‐based growth strategy, yet the acquired firms will continue to
operate under their existing branding. Managing director Graeme Fowler says that he
intends to develop a national network of leading law firms in the capital cities and key
centres across Australia and predicts that as many as 20 firms will join the group over the
next ten years.
ILH suffered a significant decline in profitability last year and was criticised for what has
been described as an “ad hoc” growth strategy to date. Indeed, the very structure of ILH
makes the company an easy target for such observations. However, the ILH concept is
relatively new and it is natural that such a fundamentally different legal practice model will
attract scrutiny and criticism – which may or may not prove to be warranted. Time will tell
whether Fowler’s vision will be vindicated. These are uncharted waters for all concerned –
and that includes ALB.
Chapter 5: Career Tips ‐ Courses for Career Advancement
If career progression is on the cards, courses which expand and fine‐
tune certain skill sets can be a valuable advantage in a competitive job
market. While there are a variety of courses available to lawyers, there
is no 'one size fits all' study guide.
Liam Richardson of legal recruitment consultancy Taylor Root says that the choice of course
is essential the competitive edge it can provide. "Beyond professionally‐required
qualifications, further education will be viewed subjectively by different clients. If a
candidate is certain about wanting a career in a particular field ‐ for example IP or finance ‐
then an LLM may be a good idea," he said.
"An LLM or JD from the UK or the US is also particularly advantageous when applying for
positions with international organizations. Similarly, for those candidates looking to move
into quasi legal/business in‐house roles or ultimately to the business side, an MBA could be
an advantage. The candidate may be deemed as having a higher level of commercial acumen
given the content of the course."
Dr Peter Ellender, CEO of Carter Newell ‐ who himself completed an MBA program at the
University of Queensland ‐ agrees that undertaking further education can assist a lawyer's
career advancement. He adds that further study can fill some important gaps that are not
catered to in general legal education. "Lawyers who want to progress and build their
practice must be able to fully understand the issues that their clients are dealing with in
their day‐to‐day work. Legal training does not expose lawyers to commercial principles or
practices and so they generally have to learn these skills on the job," Ellender said.
"Further, it is important when running a business or a practice group that there is the
understanding of leadership principles and how to get the best out of team members. This
includes having essential management skills, providing clear outcomes, feedback and
encouragement ‐ as well as having people skills, so often called 'soft skills'."
"I believe these are missing from 'pure' legal education and even the Practice Management
Course for principals is limited in the areas of commerciality. So if a lawyer wants to progress
and build their practice then further study to grasp the commercial principles and practices
is a good option," he added.
Richardson adds that above all, having top grades, the quality of the institution and timing
are essential. "What is key are the results obtained at A‐Level and the degree as well as the
quality of training received on the training contract. These are the factors which will really
influence career advancement. Those candidates with strong academic results and training
from a top‐tier law firm will invariably attract the most attention from prospective
Having continuous work experience is always looked upon very favourably, so it may be
advisable to complete all further study prior to starting your career. Others might suggest a
down market might be a better time to pursue further education as you have the time to do
so. However, if you do stop work to pursue further education you must also remember that
you will have ultimately been out of practice for a year or two and may not be as desirable a
candidate as someone who has had no breaks in their employment record," he said.
According to Ellender, motivation and the right time is also critical when deciding to
undertake further study. Looking realistic look at one's schedule is also important. "A
rational approach will often show that there is never the right time to undertake study.
Having done an MBA while working full time, it does put pressure on home life and family,"
"But if the motivation is there it is amazing how time to study is created and assignments are
completed ‐ even if it does require working early in the mornings or sacrificing a favourite TV
program," he added. "Of course it takes time and effort, and considerable financial
investment to undertake further study, but at the end of the day the ROI is generally the
highest you can get in terms of career development."
Written by Daniela Aroche, Legal Jobs editor and writer for Australasian Legal Business
Brains VS beauty in the job market
Whoever thought looks had no impact on hiring potential is in for
a shock. Recent news suggests that beauty has much more to do
with whether you get that job than initially assumed.
According to reports by Gawker.com, Dov Charney, founder and
CEO of American Apparel, recently ordered that all the less
attractive people who work for the company be fired due to
fears that they may have been affecting the 'bottom line'.
Whilst Charney has denied the allegations, studies ‐ such as one by the University of Florida
which examine a link between a person's height and salary* ‐ tend to support the theory
that looks do impact on career.
However, corporate image advisor June Dally‐Watkins believes that whilst natural charm
and intelligence should always win out over plain good looks, presentation and styling are
extremely influential in career matters.
"While I believe a depth of beauty is more important than just good looks, presentation is
extremely important," she said.
"You don't have to be a good looking person, however, it is essential to present yourself well
from top to toe ‐ which means a nice hairstyle (whether male or female) and business
acceptable clothes, coordinated well. I believe a person should get the job the moment they
walk in the door, because of the way they present themselves."
Regardless of whether natural good looks play a part in attaining the role you're after, the
experts agree that overall presentation is undeniably a factor in the selection process and
getting those styling tips down pat can certainly contribute to your competitive edge.
According to June Dally‐Watkins, for ladies this means:
* Not wearing clothes with plunging necklines, bare midriffs or skirts that are too short
* They should wear make‐up which is acceptable to the job and apply it in a careful way ‐
not too heavy
* Hair groomed and not a lot hanging down the front of the shoulders
* A good haircut.
* To have posture which looks confidence and self‐assured
* A nice firm handshake, eye contact and most especially a warm friendly smile, which again,
reflects itself in the tone of one's voice
* The study by the University of Florida found two centimetres in height amounts to about
AU$940 more in pay each month. IE ‐someone who is 183 cm tall can expect to make
AUI$6,582 more each year than someone who stands 167 centimetres.
Law: a springboard to corporate glory
Part 1: 'Once a lawyer, always a lawyer'.
That, until recently, was the conventional wisdom through a large proportion of the business
world if not the profession itself. But greater recognition of the contribution that lawyers
can bring to the boardroom table is eroding the adage as fast as lawyers are climbing the
corporate hierarchy ‐ in some cases right to the top.
The option of the very senior corporate management role is now a very real one for the
gifted lawyer, perhaps especially those with a strong track record within corporations.
According to Peter Turner, chief executive officer, ACLA (close affiliate of the Hong Kong
Corporate Counsel Association), the move out of the corporate legal department into senior
management can be relatively seamless for an in‐house lawyer with such a career ambition.
"There are a great deal of lawyers who have become CEOs because of the nature of the
business, where a lot of legal principles are involved ‐ copyright issues, licensing issues, etc ‐
so lawyers moving into business roles isn't necessarily a new development," he says.
"However, I think we're now seeing more positions opening up as recognition increases of
the value that a law background brings... In‐house lawyers are being seen by managers as
real value‐adders ‐ people who understand the strategic issues that face the business."
As Turner explains, lawyers ‐ particularly those who have strong overseas experience or
those who have come into in‐house roles from quite senior positions at law firms ‐ can be
extremely well positioned to become part of management teams; and it is precisely their
track records of discussing with senior management pivotal transactions and substantive
issues facing businesses that makes them natural choices for leadership roles. This previous
intimate involvement in key commercial decisions provides them with a valuable advantage
over other prospective candidates for the coveted roles right at the peak of the corporate
But it doesn't stop there: "I think another key to any senior corporate role is people skills
and the ability to lead. Also, any management role demands problem‐solving skills. Lawyers
are equipped to solve problems ‐ they are taught to be very analytical. If they can combine
that with the people skills and leadership skills that all business leaders need to have, then
they are ahead of the pack in terms of the likelihood of being appointed to a senior
management role," said Turner.
The multi‐faceted nature of many senior in‐house positions ‐ corporate lawyer, head of
compliance, company secretary, etc ‐ also makes the move into a senior management
position easier. "Being an in‐house lawyer is one of the few positions in any corporation
where you see the entire business, says Turner.”A senior person in a marketing or finance
role may see just one slice of the business, but in a legal role you see the lot and you deal
right across the corporation ‐ upwards to the CEO and to the board and downwards through
all the ranks of management to staff. As a lawyer you naturally develop that breadth of
knowledge and experience of the corporation that very few others get."
The pros and cons of a lawyer on the board of directors:
Whilst a lawyer has many talents which can invariably make the transition from in‐house
lawyer to senior corporate management success, there are certain things to watch out for:
The many strengths a lawyer can offer include:
* an instinctive feel for risk and strong risk management skills
* an understanding of complex fact scenarios and clear thinking in difficult circumstances
* a solid awareness of responsibilities and accountability
But some lawyers can display the following weaknesses:
* a tendency to be too cautious and to over‐emphasise theoretical risks
* a lack of commercial or business sense
* a strong focus on the black letter of the law, which can slow decision‐making and inhibit
Source: Australian Institute of Company Directors
Part 2: Reaching Corporate Management Positions
The motivations and ways for lawyers to reach senior corporate management positions are,
happily, as various as the positions themselves.
For many lawyers the motivation behind a move to senior corporate management may be
because it is simply the next, often last, big step up the career ladder ‐ a change in
responsibilities and a fresh challenge. For others, the big attraction of such a role is the
opportunity to use the skills learnt in practice in a more influential, operational, commercial
and executive context.
"One of the benefits is that you do get rid of that lawyer's stamp and in effect you take your
skills to the next level and you are able to bring those skills to bear for the benefit of the
entire organisation ‐ whereas in the legal role you are helping to facilitate deals and get
things done, but you're not influencing the entire corporation. I think there's a huge
attraction in being able to move up to the next level and to really be part of the
management team and the decision‐making role," said Peter Turner, chief executive officer
of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association.
John O'Sullivan is currently chairman of the Australian Investment Banking Department of
Credit Suisse (Australia) Limited. O'Sullivan, a former partner at Freehills and former general
counsel at Commonwealth Bank Australia, saw the main attraction of pursuing a
management position as being the opportunity to wield greater corporate influence and
engage in a stimulating mix of work that provided the best of both worlds.
"Moving to CBA was my first opportunity to manage a large team of people, but more
importantly I became a member of the CBA executive committee ‐ the 10‐person team that
reports to the CEO and helps him run the bank. That meant that I was able to participate in
key decision making at one of the country's great institutions. That was a great attraction,"
"Credit Suisse then offered different advantages. It enabled me
to return to the kind of deal doing I loved at Freehills but from
an investment banking perspective. It was also exciting because
of its truly global businesses and focus and because of the
awesome intellectual horsepower it commands."
On a personal level, the move to management also provided
O'Sullivan with a fresh challenge and an opportunity to learn
new skills as an individual.
"I also wanted to broaden my skills and prove to myself I could
John O'Sullivan, succeed at more than one career," he said. "That's high risk ‐ it
Chairman, Australian would have been much safer to stay doing the kind of corporate
Investment Banking transactional legal work I knew I was good at ‐ but I knew if I
Department, Credit succeeded it would be high reward too."
The path to the top for other corporate leaders has been more of an evolution. David
Krasnostein is now head of MLC Private Equity, but was formerly Telstra's first general
counsel, head of strategic planning and corporate planning and then NAB's chief group
general counsel. For him the transition was less of a clearly defined goal and more a natural
"I think it was a natural next step for me. When I got into
law I was very passionate about being a lawyer and that
passion lasted a long time ‐ about 30 years.
"After a couple of years at Telstra, I attended INSEAD in Paris
where I did a three‐month international executive program,
and that got me very interested in the business side. I then
David Krasnostein, head of moved to NAB as corporate counsel, and although that was
MLC Private Equity a pure legal role, I kept an interest in the commercial side of
things." he said.
“It took me some years to circle back again and decide that I actually wanted to run a
business, but [my move to management] was a combination of a general desire to run a
business and a feeling I had practiced law long enough. Thirty years was a bit of a milestone
and I thought I'd probably done everything I wanted to do as a lawyer. I was interested in
doing something that would be more stimulating for me. Those two things came together at
the same time and it was just the right time to take the next step."
Some lawyers make the move to management because of an express desire for a change of
environment. Gai McGrath, general manager of customer service at BT Financial Group
(BTFG ‐ the wealth management division of Westpac), is a case in point. "When I was
approached to join BTFG in 2003, one of the key attractions of the role as general manager,
risk solutions was the opportunity to take on a broader risk management role and join a
larger organisation," she said.
"The opportunity to move completely into broader general management came in early 2006
when I was appointed head of customer service delivery for BT's Customer Solutions
business. Then, when Westpac and St George merged in 2008, a new position of general
manager, customer service was created for the merged wealth business and I was fortunate
to be appointed. I now lead over 1,000 people across seven different locations in Australia
who service over three million interactions with our customers each year ranging from
contact centre to complex unit pricing of our funds."
Like Krasnostein, the opportunity to embark on a new challenge and expand on the skills she
had learnt as a lawyer was also a major incentive for McGrath to move to management.
"I felt I had achieved all that I wanted to achieve as an in‐house lawyer and risk management
professional... I wanted new challenges in areas that I had no relevant expertise," she said.
Motivations aside, the decision to switch out of a lucrative, stable and engaging position
within the legal profession itself into the corporate cut‐and‐thrust is a momentous one for
any lawyer. It should, therefore, not be taken lightly or without due consideration of all the
Knowing when to jump is key, as is analysing exactly where one is in terms of career
progression. No matter how well suited to a management position a lawyer may be, there
are risks involved.
"Unless you are jumping directly into a senior management role, the move out of the legal
department into line management is very often something that entails moving backwards in
terms of remuneration but with the prospect of moving forward at a later point on time.
There's obviously some risk associated with that jump, so you have to think about whether
you are really suited to a line management type of role and whether the rest of your career
is really going to be outside the law," says Turner.
"It's quite hard to come back into a legal role once you've moved out at least for any period
of time because you don't keep your technical legal skills up to date and if you do decide to
move back into legal at some point, you may be faced with the same choice ‐ are you willing
to move back in order to move forward. So that's the single most important thing to
consider ‐ at what stage and to what role are you going to move.
"The second thing to look at very seriously is whether you have the skills that are going to be
required here. They are very often soft skills things like people management, leadership and
team‐based skills, rather than the hard skills that legal qualifications might give you ... You
might want to enhance your soft skills by going to a company director’s course or something
of that kind."