Squire Sanders partners vote in favour of Aussie tie-up

Squire Sanders & Dempsey’s global partnership has given the green light to its proposed merger with the majority of Minter Ellison’s Perth office in Western Australia.

Jim Maiwurm (left) and John Poulson
Jim Maiwurm (left) and John Poulson

Partners at the US firm voted in favour of the combination, which was announced earlier this month (5 August 2011), as its global CEO James Maiwurm admitted the move was part of a wider Asia Pacific strategy for Squire Sanders, including a possible future opening in South Korea.

The Australian merger will be rolled out during September and October and will involve about 80 of Minter Ellison’s Perth-based lawyers, including 14 partners, joining the US firm under the new trading name of Squire Sanders Australia.

Maiwurm said Asia Pacific expansion had been Squire Sanders’ next priority after completing its merger with UK firm Hammonds on 1 January to secure a greater European footprint.

“We thought Western Australia was an interesting location and it’s a region of the world which is going to continue to prosper, and we also liked it from a sector point of view,” he said. “We already have various energy and resource practices across the world and Minter Ellison has a strong addition to make to that practice.

“Looking at it from an Asia Pacific play we also wanted to strengthen our position in what is one of the most rapidly growing regions of the world.”

While Squire Sanders has established offices in Japan and China, Maiwurm said its new Australian base would link into plans for further expansion in the region, including the possibility of an office in South Korea once restrictions on foreign firms are lifted.

“Lots of UK firms and US firms are looking at places like South Korea, depending on free trade agreements,” he said. “We’d take a very hard look at it because we have an interesting set of clients who are based in Korea. It’s another reason why we think Western Australia makes sense, because there’s already trade between WA and Korea.”

Minter Ellison Perth managing partner John Poulsen, who is also designated managing partner of the new Squire Sanders Australia office, said Perth partners had carried out 14 months of talks with Minter Ellison, which was keen to financially integrate with the franchised Perth office, before rejecting its advances in favour of Squire Sanders’ offer.

“It became clear to us that our focus needed to be more international, because of the way Western Australia is developing,” he said.

While four Perth partners have opted to remain with Minter Ellison in a new financially integrated Perth base, Poulsen said the vast majority had voted for a Squire Sanders combination because of its larger global network.

“Oil and gas specialists are looking at the next place in which they can generate some business and there’s a big focus on attracting that kind of inward-bound work [into Perth],” he said. “Minter Ellison has a strong presence in Asia Pacific, but we felt the global platform of Squire Sanders was more relevant.”

Poulsen said Perth partners had been surprised by the level of interest from other international firms looking for an Australian merger, and had narrowed their selection of suitors to three before choosing Squire Sanders.

The new combination will follow a Swiss Verein structure, but Squire Sanders’ merit-based remuneration system will be made uniform across the firm – although Minter Ellison’s Perth office already operates a merit-based pay system.

The Australian combination will boost Squire Sanders’ headcount to more than 1300 lawyers in 36 offices and 17 countries and increase its turnover to an anticipated $725m, which according to the firm will place it head-to-head with the top 20 US firms.

But Maiwurm added: “We don’t grow for the sake of growth, and we compete with the other transatlantic firms without this.

“This was about taking up an opportunity, and we felt we were slightly underweight in Asia Pacific so it was an obvious strategic opportunity.”

Poulsen said the new Squire Sanders Australia office had already been approached by a number of lawyers from other firms in Australia, adding that he is keen to reshape the practice with an increased strength in project finance as well as replacing the office’s lender-based finance team, which has remained with Minter Ellison.