Phillips Fox’s Western Australian partnership has split after the firm announced it would financially integrate the Perth office into its national and New Zealand network.
The decision to integrate Perth in April, which has been a franchise for the past seven years, has divided the local partnership, with 15 partners set to quit to form a new firm called Lavan Legal.
The partners set to leave will merge with boutique litigation firm Bennett & Co, creating the second-largest firm in Western Australia’s capital.
Phillips Fox Perth managing partner Greg Gaunt, who will become Lavan Legal’s new managing partner, told The Lawyer that the Perth office had been losing work on national panels and that it could secure more work as a standalone firm.
“We looked at other small firms that had a place on all of the major banks’ national panels and found they stuck to their specialities and won the work,” he said. “Big national firms have a reputation for not providing as personal a service as smaller firms.”
The departures will leave Perth with six insurance and risk management partners, a key practice area for the firm.
Gaunt said the firm’s focus on insurance and risk management held back its corporate and property sectors.
“The joke was that at least we were famous for something, but really insurance and risk management is probably the worst area a lawyer could be famous for,” he said. “We wanted to be known for our expertise in other areas, such as corporate, property and litigation.”
Phillips Fox chief executive Tony Crawford said the firm was committed to its strategy to offer a full legal service across its integrated network.
“We intend to build a full service capability as quickly as possible in Perth,” he said. “The firm is highly regarded in a number of areas, including the insurance industry.”