Herbie’s Aussie energy rush

It’s tough keeping up with all the energy and natural resources-related international expansion these days. UK firms in particular are flocking to the supposedly overlawyered Australian market.

Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and ­Norton Rose have all made moves, while DLA Piper’s more rocky road with its Phillips Fox deal, which saw 15 partners jump ship recently, at least extended its brand Down Under.

Even Holman Fenwick Willan has been getting in on the act, with the commodities firm preparing to open its third office in Australia later this year.

So it’s not as if Herbies, which as we reveal today (see cover) is considering opening an office in Oz, will be ­blazing a trail. This is a well-trodden path.

There are two issues the firm faces. How to get itself into the market in a meaningful way – ie what is it offering that the local market, which is a lot cheaper and often just as good, isn’t? – and how to ensure it doesn’t get left behind internationally.

The answer to the latter question is simple, at least on paper: Herbies needs to find some decent talent. In this case that’s likely to mean an A&O- or Clifford Chance-style local firm raid rather than a full-blown merger or a Gleiss- and Stibbe-style association.

It’s not yet clear who Herbies has in its sights, but there are clues. The firm has links with several ­Australian firms, including Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Freehills. The rumour is that partners at Freehills or Blake Dawson are heading the list.

The first question has a decidedly macro flavour to its answer. Opening in Australia is a strategy borne out of Herbies’ longstanding ­presence in the global energy market and heavily influenced by the high level of activity of Chinese clients in the sector.

Currently it is advising Australia-based energy company Woodside on the early stages of the Browse LNG project, a potential $40bn (£24.3bn) deal. And a team led by Asia head of energy Anna Howell is advising CNOOC on its investment into BG Group’s Queensland Curtis LNG project.

Howell’s team is an integral part of the practice’s future, evidenced by last year’s launch of a Beijing energy team and the relocation of two Hong Kong associates to the city. Building on this with an ­outpost in Australia looks like a compelling sell.

matt.byrne@thelawyer.com; www.twitter.com/thelawyermatt