Mallesons Stephen Jaques appears to be something of an Anglophile. UK merger talks have been high on its agenda in recent years. When the on-off talks with Clifford Chance finally collapsed last year, it was understood to have jumped straight back into UK negotiations, this time with Linklaters & Alliance.
Mallesons is one of only three Australian firms to have a UK office – Minter Ellison and Blake Dawson Waldron being the other two. Established in 1975, it is one of the oldest Australian operations in London. Corporate partner Tim Blue, who spent time in the early 1990s at Linklaters, heads the office of four assistants, all dual-qualified to practise Australian and UK law.
The firm, depending on which set of league tables you believe, is the number one Australian firm (it usually shares the title with Allens Arthur Robinson). It is known primarily for banking and finance.
The London office is Mallesons' only presence outside of Asia and its base for all European work. This is quite a big onus on such a small operation, but it has one guaranteed fallback in the shape of longstanding client National Australia Bank (NAB). The bank is one of the top retail banks in Australia, with an asset base of AU$250bn. It also owns significant UK operations: the Clydesdale Bank, Yorkshire Bank and the Belfast-based Northern Bank. Outside the UK it owns the National Irish Bank in Dublin.
The relationship between firm and bank is old – Mallesons advised the bank on its creation back in the mid-1800s – and almost incestuously close. Partner Nuncio D'Angelo has just come to the end of a two-year Edinburgh-based secondment as the bank's European head of legal. A panel review, started by D'Angelo, is ongoing, but Mallesons' place is practically guaranteed.
But the office strives to be more than just a NAB service station. It aims to fulfil two main purposes. The first is servicing Australian clients that have European interests. NAB falls into this category, as does telecommunications group Telstra.
The second is to encourage UK firms to refer work to Mallesons, in London or Asia, if Australian advice is sought. And this seems to be working – it recently acted alongside Allen & Overy on the multimillion pound disposal of Chubb, and in the past it has worked with a variety of magic circle firms.
The office covers its own costs and has sent money home for the past two years – the best way of keeping partners back home happy. Money is, after all, the most tangible sign of success.
The possibility of moving a banking partner from Australia to London is on the agenda. Blue is supported by a senior banking associate but the firm is keen to get a more senior banking specialist on board.
Australian firms have, in the past, had mixed feelings about the UK – Allens, Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Freehills all had operations in London that have since closed. But despite the firm's failed attempts at a UK marriage, Mallesons' London office, for the time being at least, seems to be doing well out of its UK relationship.