Slaughters targets Aussie quartet as it abandons sole best friend strategy

Slaughter and May has drawn up a list of four preferred local firms to work with in Australia in the wake of Linklaters’ alliance deal with Allens.

Chris Saul
Chris Saul

The UK firm, which previously had a non-exclusive referral arrangement with domestic leader Allens (formerly Allens Arthur Robinson), has selected national independents Clayton Utz, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Gilbert & Tobin and Minter Ellison as its favoured partners on the ground.

The decision is a move away from Slaughters’ traditional strategy of operating an informal alliance with a specific local firm in a jurisdiction, a set-up that it still adheres to more closely in Europe.

The new approach was forced upon the firm when Linklaters entered into alliance talks with Allens earlier this year (28 February 2012). Slaughters responded by reviewing its relationships with firms Down Under with a possible view to engaging informally with a range of firms in the country (30 March 2012).

Slaughters’ Australian quartet excludes King & Wood Mallesons, the successor of Australian firm Mallesons, because it has emerged as a stronger competitor to the UK leader in Hong Kong since its tie-up with China’s King & Wood earlier this year (15 December 2011).

Freehills has also been taken off the list of potential partners in Australia following confirmation of its merger with Herbert Smith (28 June 2012).

Slaughters is set to utilise City corporate partners Nigel Boardman and David Johnson to manage the relationships, with the duo previously acting as the partners in charge of maintaining Australian ties. They will not be seconded to Australia but will continue to visit the jurisdiction occasionally to keep up relationships with firms, clients and other contacts.

Senior partner Chris Saul said the four firms gave Slaughters a broad range of capabilities between them, with the quartet offering differing strength in corporate, antitrust, projects and finance.

He told The Lawyer: “The firms which are still independent include Clayton Utz, Corrs, Gilbert & Tobin and Minter Ellison. That’s a good group with real range and depth of expertise.”

He said it was “not impossible” that the firm would refer work to other firms in Australia, but these four are considered the obvious quartet to focus on.

Saul added: “We have a couple of partners who lead our Australia initiatives and focus on nurturing client and law-firm relationships.”

Slaughters’ best-friends strategy outside Europe has taken a number of hits in the past year, with US referral partner Davis Polk & Wardwell transforming into a more obvious competitor by launching an English-law practice in London earlier this year (6 January 2012).

In China, meanwhile, former best friend Jun He has developed ties with a broader range of UK firms, including Macfarlanes, which has seconded environment partner Paul Davies to its Beijing headquarters (23 January 2012). Meanwhile, Slaughters now also works with ‘good friends’ in China including Fangda Partners, Haiwen & Partners and Zhong Lun Law Firm.

Saul has previously pointed out Clayton Utz, Corrs, Gilbert & Tobin and Minter Ellison as good firms to work with in Australia (14 May 2012).

For more on Slaughters’ Asia-Pacific strategy, see feature