DLA Piper-Phillips Fox combo’s corporate drive dented as nine partners jump ship

The defection of nine DLA Phillips Fox partners ahead of the firm’s merger with DLA Piper has left the Australian practice with no corporate partners in ­Brisbane.

As reported on The Lawyer.com (14 March), nine partners have left DLA Phillips Fox for mid-tier ­Australian firm Thomsons Lawyers. Among those ­leaving are corporate partners Philip Byrnes, James Daniel, Philip Dowling and Eugene Fung.

Their departures, along with those of real estate partners Ron Eames, Michael Marshall and Chris O’Shea, an IP partner and a finance partner leave the Brisbane office focused ­predominantly on infrastructure, projects and insurance.

Since its integration into the DLA group in late 2006 Phillips Fox has been moving closer to a full merger with its larger partner. The process has involved bringing the Australasian business more into line with DLA Piper’s global strategy.

As part of this process DLA Phillips Fox closed its Adelaide office last year, spun off its New Zealand arm into a separate ­financial entity and has also been working to lessen the ­importance of its traditionally strong insurance ­practice. All this has gone hand-in-hand with upping its focus on ­corporate.

DLA Piper Asia-Pacific managing director Alastair Da Costa agreed that ­corporate work was a key plank in the firm’s future strategy in the region.
“Corporate’s obviously important and we’re ­looking to develop that area,” he told The Lawyer.

Da Costa said the merged firm would seek to build up its corporate team, ­particularly in Sydney and ­Melbourne, but also in ­Brisbane and Perth.

However, he added that finance and projects work were also important. A number of the partners remaining in Brisbane are infrastructure lawyers and Da Costa said “a lot of work” was coming from the office.

In November DLA Piper Abu Dhabi managing ­partner Stephen Webb, a projects and finance ­specialist, relocated to ­Brisbane, where he became a member of the DLA Phillips Fox partnership.

Da Costa said insurance was and would remain a dominant practice for the Australasian business as well as for the wider Asia-Pacific region.

“We’re going to create more coordination between our regions in the insurance sector,” he said. What this means in practice is that DLA Piper will move insurance lawyers between offices, notably from Australia to Singapore and London, to build a more integrated offering across the firm.

Da Costa said some departures were inevitable following a merger.

“People have got to feel comfortable that the global organisation they’re fitting into will work for them, and if it doesn’t they have to think where they might be better suited,” he said. “When nine partners say they’re going to go you have to wish them well.”

Da Costa said the firm was not anticipating any more departures ahead of the merger.

A partner at a rival ­Australian firm said neither Thomsons nor DLA Phillips Fox were major players in the corporate market. ­However, he added that he expected the resources of DLA Piper would raise the latter’s ­profile in ­corporate work.