The move has forced the departure of 15 staff, including six lawyers, although no partners have been lost. The firm will retain a handful of conveyancing team members, redeploying them to other departments.
Freehills chief executive officer Peter Hay said that a change in focus has been on the cards since before the two firms announced their formal alliance in October 2000. He said the move comes in response to a strategic direction encouraging ATMD to refocus.
“Our interest in Asia is still at a very high level,” explained Hay. “We still have people travelling from Australia into the region and winning the work. We’re exiting the conveyancing market because we’re trying to focus the business and push it upmarket. To that end, together with ATMD, we’ll gradually refocus – both in terms of clients and in terms of work streams.
“The strategy in Singapore is to do the sort of work for which Freehills has a competitive advantage and where it knows how to take a leading position in the market. Conveyancing just isn’t one of those areas.”
According to Hay, those leaving will do so gradually, although it is expected that all 15 of the lawyers, clerks and support staff will have departed by 30 June.
Under local law, Freehills and ATMD operate separate profit centres in Singapore, but collaborate regularly on work in the region. The Australian practice has three partners based permanently in the country. Freehills’ Asian operation also includes correspondent offices in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Jakarta in Indonesia, and fully-fledged representative practices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Earlier this year, the firm appointed Mark Fraser, the former head of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer‘s Vietnamese office, as managing partner in Ho Chi Minh City.
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