Adelaide firm Fisher Jeffries has been thrust into the limelight, having won a place assisting the HIH Royal Commission, which is investigating the collapse of HIH Insurance.
The small Australian firm saw off competition from much larger rivals to be awarded the work. It is understood that higher-profile firms were hindered by their bulging client lists. Conflict of interest was the key factor in the selection process and many of the large national firms had previously acted for HIH Insurance. Of the remaining likely candidates for the work, a large proportion of the firms were ruled out because they already had relationships with parties involved in the HIH liquidation. Fisher Jeffries partner Skip Lipman said: "We like dealing with extremely complex financial cases." He said that the commission referral was surprising only in terms of geography. The firm's base in Adelaide is 700 miles from the client's Sydney location. He added: "We do large-scale corporate litigation arising from the financial catastrophes that have hit Australia." The firm acted as liquidator to the failed Bond Corporation. Last week the New South Wales Supreme Court ordered HIH to be put into full liquidation on the advice of Tony McGrath at KPMG. HIH losses are estimated to have reached A$5.3bn (£1.9bn). The liquidator will wait for the outcome of the investigation before suing those responsible for the collapse on behalf of creditors. The commission was established to explore the reasons and circumstances surrounding the failure of HIH prior to the arrival of the provisional liquidators in March.
"The commission referral was surprising only in terms of geography. The firm's base in Adelaide is 700 miles from the client's Sydney location"
The collapse of HIH - one of Australia's most prominent insurance companies - prompted a public outcry. This should in some measure be assuaged by the formal investigation launched this month. Mr Justice Owen has been appointed as Royal Commissioner, and it is to him that those conducting the inquiry will report. Working alongside counsel are lawyers from the Australian Government Solicitor and Fisher Jeffries. Four lawyers - Skip Lipman, Lisa Smylie, Sam Doyle and Jason Karas - will handle the work for Fisher Jeffries. Wayne Martin QC, Richard White SC and Norman O'Bryan SC have been selected as senior counsel assisting the commission. Counsel will ultimately present the commission with evidence relevant to its inquiry, but junior counsel have yet to be appointed.