Herbert Smith’s Aussie merger partner emerges as highest-earning firm in Oz

Freehills, which will merge with Herbert Smith on 1 October, has emerged as the largest Australian firm by revenue, as revealed by the latest survey from Australian magazine BRW.

According to BRW’s latest ranking of Australia’s top 35 law firms, Freehills reported a turnover of AU$565m (£382m) for the 2011-12 financial year, representing a year-on-year growth of 10.5 per cent. It is well ahead of the country’s second-highest earning firm Clayton Utz, whose revenue rose 2 per cent to A$455 from the previous year’s A$445m (15 September 2011).

Minter Ellison Legal Group, which took the top spot last year, saw its turnover plunge by 20 per cent to A$419.2m and its ranking move down to fifth. King & Wood Mallesons’ Australian turnover also dropped, by 15.8 percent to A$424m, with the firm moving down one spot to fourth.

Australian firms that have recently tied up with an international firm – Allens (formerly Allens Arthur Robinson), which entered into an exclusive alliance with Linklaters in April (23 April 2012), Ashurst Australia (formerly Blake Dawson), Norton Rose Australia and DLA Piper (formerly DLA Phillips Fox) – have all experienced a single-digit increase in revenue for the 2011-12 financial year.

The nation’s mid-tier firms continue to see strong growth, with Hall and Willcox, Thomsons Lawyers, and Slater & Gordon among the fastest growing firms – all of the three firms achieved a higher than 20 per cent revenue growth rate.

Baker & McKenzie and Henry Davis York are the only other two top 20 firms to have seen a dip in turnover. Baker & McKenzie’s turnover dropped by 8 per cent to A$155m, while Henry Davis York’s turnover slid by 3 per cent to A$98m.

In generally, Australian law firms have weathered the storm reasonably well. By BRW’s calculations, Australia’s top 35 law firms raked in A$5.8bn over the 2011-12 financial year, up 7 per cent on the previous year.

Australia’s top 20 firms by revenue for FY2011/2012

Rank Firm (Current name) Revenue (2011-12) A$m Revenue (2010-11) A$m Partners Lawyers
1 Freehills 565 511 185 729.2
2 Clayton Utz 455 445 197 575.2
3 Allens 440* 405* 175.1 635.1
4 King & Wood Mallesons 424 491 158.3 541.3
5 Minter Ellison 419 525 193.1 574.886
6 Ashurst Australia 398 380 181.5 581
7 Corrs Chambers Westgarth 265 252 122.3 370.5
8 Norton Rose Australia 250* 241 140.2 394.5
9 Slater & Gordon Ltd 217* 178 Not applicable** 436
10 Gadens Lawyers 207 187 137 346
11 DLA Piper 190* 186* 111.3 334.5
12 Baker & McKenzie 155 169 89 177
13 Gilbert + Tobin 155 141 65.4 172.1
14 HWL Ebsworth Lawyers 140 120 146 236
15 Maddocks 114 100 63.7 185
16 Middletons 112* 103* 67.2 213
17 Sparke Helmore Lawyers 105 100 48.6 190.2
18 Henry Davis York 98 101 Not provided 143
19 McCullough Robertson 96 83 47 147
20 Thomsons Lawyers 93 76 58 160

Source: BRW

Note: *BRW estimate only; **ASX listed company does not have partners