The top 20 law firms to the Australian government will reap almost A$174m (£73.5m) in legal fees this year, with Clayton Utz taking top spot as the biggest-billing private practice firm.
Research conducted by Interdata for newspaper The Australian confirmed the government's own law firm, the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS), as the top recipient of legal spend by the Australian government. The AGS reaped almost A$100m (£42.3m) in fee income from the government in 2004-05.
Meanwhile, in the private sector, Clayton Utz ousted Blake Dawson Waldron as the government's top supplier of legal services. The firm saw fee income from the Australian government hit almost A$19m (£8m), an increase of A$2.4m (£1m) on the previous year. Blake Dawson's billings to the federal government dropped by A$329,000 (£139,000) last year to A$17.8m (£7.5m) (see table).
Niche government firm Sparke Helmore saw its billings to government agencies increase 89 per cent on 2003-04 to A$7.7m (£3.3m), while Freehills enjoyed a massive 494 per cent increase from A$1m (£420,000) to almost A$6m (£2.5m).
Minter Ellison and Deacons suffered from dramatic drops in government work, with Minter Ellison posting a 43 per cent fall in fees from the government to $3.8m (£1.6m) and Deacons slumping from A$12.5m (£5.3m) to just A$881,000 (£372,000).
At the same time, a report by Australia's National Audit Office found that legal spend by the Australian government increased 23.5 per cent in the five years between 1999 and 2004. External legal spend rose from A$175m (£73.9m) to A$216.2m (£91.3m) over the same period.
The Australian Tax Office was the largest legal spender of all government agencies, spending A$86.2m (£36.4m), followed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, which spent A$67.1m (£28.4m).
Federal government agencies spent A$207.6m (£87.7) on litigation - 58 per cent of the government's total legal spend.