Tie me law firm down, sport

Given the number of western firms that have tapped Australia for a tie-up over the past couple of years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that by now the country must be sucked dry of independent practices open to mergers. Not so.

Serial acquirer K&L Gates has confirmed that it is the latest in a long, long line of firms to discuss a merger with an Aussie mate (see story). The US firm is in talks with Middletons, a Melbourne-based firm with an estimated £74.5m turnover and 213 lawyers. K&L Gates’ turnover, meanwhile, is reportedly £636.4m and the firm has around 1,700 lawyers. So, there’s no prizes for guessing what the name of the combined firm will most likely be.

Still, following the mergers between Herbert Smith and Freehills, Ashurst and Blake Dawson, Norton Rose and Deacons, King & Wood and Mallesons, Russell Jones & Walker and Slater & Gordon, and the alliance between Linklaters and Allens Arthur Robinson, Australia is severely lacking in independent firms.

And those that do remain are being hogged by Slaughter and May, which announced a non-exclusive referral relationship with four of the remaining independents in July.

Australia is already said to be an over-lawyered jurisdiction, but might the Australian legal market’s next big trend be a rush of spin-off firms coming out the woodwork?


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