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This Special Report covers 31 practice areas.

This will search all specialists in Australia.

Australia In Brief

Australia has a strong and open economy, with bountiful natural resources and a skilled workforce. It also enjoys a number of free trade agreements with key regional markets including China, Japan and Korea and was one of the 12 countries involved in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Australia’s GDP peaked at US$1.62 trillion in 2013 following decades of growth and most recent figures value it at US$1.34 trillion.

International investment in 2016 has yielded mixed fortunes. The year saw global foreign direct investment fall by 13 per cent owing to slow economic growth and sluggish increases in world trade. However, the Australian investment climate has fared well, yielding high returns and offering investors the benefits of a stable economy, robust governance system and proximity to Asian and Pacific markets. As a consequence, Australia is one of the largest investment hubs in the world, attracting foreign direct investments totalling US$44 billion.

The US and UK are the largest sources of investment in Australia, followed by Belgium and Japan. Chinese investment has been growing over the last decade and sources have commented that this has been the most noticeable change in recent years.

In the capital markets arena sources have reported high levels of IPO activity, particularly M&A transactions, privatisations and infrastructure projects. Deloitte reported that despite some of the country’s markets seeing the slowest start since 1897, overall 2016 was a good year and investors express quiet confidence that the market will remain buoyant. The legal market in this area has remained consistent thus far, although interviewees noted that the future of the IPO market will be influenced significantly by the change of administration in the US.

Australia’s economy is heavily resource-focused: mining and quarrying attract the greatest value of foreign investment and constitute 40 per cent of the annual total. The downturn in commodity prices over recent years knocked the industry and led to many projects being postponed or cancelled. It also resulted in significant restructuring activity as companies recalibrated their businesses to remove costs and focus on assets where they can achieve the greatest margin. As commodity prices begin to show signs of recovery, sources note that they are beginning to see an increase in investor confidence and projects being picked up and reworked. However, there has thus far not been a sufficient uptick in oil prices to drive large-scale market changes.

In the energy sector, there have been huge developments in LNG over the past few years and sources are now expecting this to plateau as the gaps in the market have been closed, leaving little room for further exploitation. There has also been a recent focus on the renewable sector. Sources have reported accelerated movement on solar projects over the last 12–18 months, despite some uncertainty around policy. Recent blackouts, which have been partially attributed to issues with integrating renewables, have attracted high-profile criticism and focused policy attention on the design of the national electricity market. Market commentators also observed significant interest in emerging technologies and technological developments and reported that the battery storage market is starting to show signs of progress.

The energy and natural resources industries are also facing considerable environmental challenges. Over the last 12 months practitioners have seen government agencies becoming increasingly interested in environmental compliance. Contaminated land and groundwater remains an important issue and, as many coalmines across Australia approach the end of their lives, issues surrounding their rehabilitation and closure are coming to the fore.

The recent decision in McGlade has cast doubt over the validity of many native title agreements on projects valued at billions of Australian dollars. The federal government has introduced a bill to make the decision redundant. However, as a result of the decision lawyers are now expecting to see an increase in litigation concerning indigenous land agreements. Interviewees also state that the Federal court’s 2016 decision to award A$3.3 million in compensation for the extinguishment of native title in the Timber Creek case is also likely to encourage compensation claims in respect of native title land holdings elsewhere in Australia. For the most part, states and territories are liable to pay native title compensation, as was the case for the Northern Territory in Timber Creek. However, liability may be passed on to third parties by legislation or contract terms. Therefore,the decision may have a significant impact on existing and future commercial native title agreements.

Australia’s A$160 billion franchising industry has undergone some intense regulatory changes this year. In November 2016 unfair contract terms in the Australian Consumer Law were extended to cover “small business contracts”, a term that applies to the majority of franchise agreements and necessitates the review and amendment of certain terms. Reports of staff underpayment within franchising systems have received extensive media coverage, and lawyers have seen an uptick in auditing work as franchisors become more vigilant in relation to staff pay. There has been a government push to impose legal responsibility for franchise employees onto franchisors in this respect. This has been a hot topic of discussion, although there has been no direct legislation as of yet. Sources report an increase in litigation in this space, mirroring the broader trend towards franchising becoming a more litigious area of law.

Labour and employment practitioners are also seeing significant increases in litigation. Sources report that some applicant firms have adopted positions which utilise the threat of adverse publicity to extract larger settlements, although the effectiveness of this approach is dependent on the client susceptibility and position in the industry. Overall claimants seem to be becoming less willing to settle and increasingly willing to “run with things”; this trend is echoed by practitioners across multiple practice areas.

Australian law has allowed for third-party funding for some time, and in January this year Singapore’s Parliament followed suit by passing a bill to permit third-party funding in international arbitration proceedings. Singapore is a major dispute resolution centre and arbitration specialists in Australia undertake a significant amount of offshore work, so this news has been received with enthusiasm. Arbitration is a growing market in Australia and sources affirm that, with its political stability and well-developed infrastructure, the country possesses all of the attributes necessary for continued growth. In 2018 the ICCA Congress will be held in Sydney; there is optimism surrounding the benefits this will have for the market’s growth, with one source citing the considerable boost Singapore experienced from hosting the conference in 2012.  

Legal Market Analysis

The Australian legal market is highly specialised, well populated and extremely competitive. It includes both well-established domestic players and dominant international firms who operate on a regional or global level. Our research shows that King & Wood Mallesons, Allens, Herbert Smith Freehills and Ashurst are the top international firms, while Clayton Utz, Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Gilbert + Tobin are the market-leading Australian firms. Some prominent boutiques are featured in this year’s research as sector-specific expertise becomes more and more desirable for clients with highly specialised and technical legal issues. This includes Davies Collison Cave and Griffith Hack, who perform well in our IP research.  

Australia’s mature legal market is seeing a number of strong and powerful new players entering. Sources tell us that this is causing something of an impact due to the increase in competition and supply of legal services. In the corporate tax arena, sources note the arrival of international firm White & Case and some migration of advice and dispute work to the Big Four accountancy firms who have developed legal practices, although law firms and barristers’ chambers still heavily dominate our research in this practice area. Practitioners in restructuring and insolvency reported an increased presence of offshore firms; international firms currently account for 50 per cent of the listings in this chapter. Sources also report that the bar is becoming increasingly populous due to a greater number of solicitors deciding to train as barristers later in their careers. Despite these new entrants, interviewees observe that names at the top end of the market remain relatively consistent.

Our first Australia Special Report draws together nominations from private practice lawyers and other market sources to identify and highlight some of the country’s leading solicitors and barristers.

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Analysis: Australia

Australia: Arbitration 2017

We recognise 25 arbitrators and arbitration counsel in this year’s chapter. They include globally distinguished practitioners with expertise in commercial and investor-state arbitration in the construction, energy and corporate sectors, among others.

Australia: Arbitration Expert Witnesses 2017

This chapter highlights seven leading expert witnesses in arbitration in the region. These include world-renowned individuals with significant experience sitting as expert witnesses in Australia and internationally.

Australia: Banking 2017

This chapter highlights 62 excellent practitioners who have a strong track record of representing financial institutions and their corporate clients, and particular expertise relating to regulatory and transactional banking matters. Below we highlight the most highly regarded in the field.

Australia: Business Crime, Investigations & Asset Recovery 2017

This chapter identifies 10 outstanding individuals who have specialist expertise in representing companies, corporate officers and individuals involved in criminal litigation arising from their business activities. In addition practitioners will have experience in dealing with investigations, enforcement proceedings and parallel or related civil litigation, as well as advising clients on best practice and compliance with new regimes. 

Australia: Capital Markets 2017

This chapter identifies 42 private practitioners who have a proven track record in representing and advising issuers, underwriters, investment banks, funds, REITs and other market participants on all aspects of capital markets transactions around the world. Below we highlight the most highly regarded in the field. 

Australia: Competition 2017

In this chapter, we identify 43 of the country’s leading players in behavioural and non-behavioural competition law matters, regularly representing clients before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), as well as the courts.

Australia: Competition Economists 2017

We list five top economists in the competition field who provide sophisticated advice to clients in the area.

Australia: Competition Review 2017

Clifford Chance

By Dave Poddar, Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance’s Dave Poddar explores the current state of competition and consumer laws in Australia and the impact of an ever-changing regulatory framework.

Australia: Construction 2017

In this chapter, we recognise 53 of the country’s leading construction specialists. The featured lawyers have proven expertise in representing a range of clients including owners, contractors and subcontractors in both contentious and non-contentious work within the construction sector.

Australia: Corporate Immigration 2017

We feature 13 leading practitioners in this chapter who are highlighted for their impressive work assisting corporations with the immigration and naturalisation of skilled workers.

Australia: Corporate Immigration Review 2017

Immigration Solutions

By Anne O’Donoghue, Immigration Solutions Lawyers

Anne O’Donoghue at Immigration Solutions Lawyers discusses recent reforms in the Australian corporate immigration market and the need to address skill shortages as well as encourage domestic business and trade.

Australia: Corporate Tax 2017

Recommended in our first edition of Who’s Who Legal: Australia are 42 leading corporate tax lawyers. Their expertise includes national and international taxation matters and capital gains tax, income tax, audits and taxation relating to transactions and capital and debt markets. 

Australia: Corporate Tax Expert Witnesses 2017

We recognise four expert witnesses as the leaders in Australia in the corporate tax sphere, including individuals specialising in all aspects of corporate tax matters.

Australia: Energy, Natural Resources & Mining 2017

This chapter features 50 eminent private practice lawyers with deep knowledge and experience across the commodities market. The practitioners listed here have a diverse range of specialisms and boast wide-ranging expertise on contractual agreements, regulatory issues, transactional matters and dispute resolution.  

Australia: Environment 2017

We feature 29 impressive practitioners who are recognised for their environmental law expertise handling issues of water protection, waste management and pollution, as well as government and state regulation and compliance issues.

Australia: Franchise 2017

We have identified 22 practitioners for their outstanding ability to assist franchisors, franchisees and suppliers throughout the establishment and operation process and with the growth of franchise networks. With strong commercial expertise and sophisticated regulatory knowledge, the following lawyers are the top names in the Australian market. 

Australia: Government Contracts 2017

We feature 27 practitioners in this chapter who stand out for their exceptional work providing first-rate counsel to public authorities and private-sector clients in relation to the drafting and structuring of procurement bids and PPP contracts, as well as disputes arising from such arrangements.

Australia: Insurance & Reinsurance 2017

We highlight 13 leading insurance and reinsurance practitioners in this chapter.

Australia: Labour & Employment 2017

In this chapter, 40 of the country’s leading labour, employment and superannuation specialists are singled out for their excellence. The featured employment lawyers represent and advise management and corporate HR teams on all aspects of labour, employment and industrial relations law, while those superannuation specialists are recognised for their expertise advising funds and corporate clients on the full range legal, regulatory and tax issues related to pension funds.

Australia: Life Sciences 2017

In this chapter we identify 31 practitioners at the forefront of the life sciences market. The practitioners listed here undertake a broad range of work spanning transactional, regulatory, product liability defence and patent litigation matters. Clients include Australian, multinational and global corporations from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. 

Australia: Litigation 2017

The research has flagged up 15 leading litigation experts for their skills in dispute resolution both advising clients and representing them at the highest levels of court in Australia.

Australia: M&A and Governance 2017

We recommend 44 leading practitioners in corporate governance as well as mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.

Australia: Mediation 2017

This chapter includes 18 mediators and mediation experts who are recommended in this year’s research for their dispute resolution skills, visibility in the market and high esteem amongst clients in all manner of commercial disputes.

Australia: Native Title Law 2017

In our first look at native title law in Australia, we identify 12 leading practitioners who are highlighted for their expertise in native title and land claims, the negotiation and drafting of indigenous land agreements, related dispute resolution and cultural heritage protection matters. 

Australia: Patents 2017

We list 31 leading patent lawyers in this year’s chapter, which includes experts on both contentious and non-contentious matters, filings, infringement and portfolio management.

Australia: Product Liability Defence 2017

Our research this year has indicated 13 top practitioners who stand out for their skill in the area of product liability defence.

Australia: Product Liability Defence Review 2017

Clayton Ulz

Is It Time to Revisit Australia's Class Action Procedure?

 By Colin Loveday and Bonnie Perris, Clayton Utz

Colin Loveday and Bonnie Perris at Clayton Utz explore the development of class actions in Australia and question whether it may be time for procedural reform. 

Australia: Project Finance 2017

Our research has identified 21 of the top project financing lawyers in Australia this year.

Australia: Real Estate 2017

We feature 10 leading practitioners in this chapter who stand out for their strong expertise in real estate financing, transactions, portfolio and asset management, as well as tax and structuring matters.

Australia: Restructuring & Insolvency 2017

In this chapter, we identify 27 of the country’s premier restructuring and insolvency specialists. The featured lawyers advise on a range of matters such as rescue, reconstruction and insolvency procedures, financings, financial restructurings, leveraged buyouts, administrations, rehabilitations, receiverships, liquidations, structuring workouts and turnarounds, and offering advice to companies both in and out of bankruptcy proceedings.

Australia: Sports & Entertainment 2017

We feature 12 leading lawyers in this chapter who are highlighted for their excellent work assisting clients with labour, contract and intellectual property law, as well as merchandising and licensing work. 

Australia: TMT 2017

In this chapter, we identify 30 leading lawyers who are renowned for their experience representing media, technology and IT companies across a range of corporate and commercial matters, including dispute resolution, regulations and compliance, M&A, and issues arising under IP law.  

Australia: Trademarks 2017

We highlight 46 of the best trademarks practitioners in Australia in this chapter. They handle the spectrum of issues, from filings and prosecution to infringement proceedings and portfolio management.

Australia: Transport Aviation 2017

Our research identifies 21 pre-eminent practitioners who are recognised by peers and clients alike for the exceptional service they provide across the aerospace, insurance and manufacturing industries. The lawyers listed here have a diverse range of expertise in contentious, financial and regulatory matters and are at the forefront of the Australian market for their practice in these areas. 

Australia: Transport Shipping 2017

We feature 23 lawyers in this chapter who are highlighted for their first-rate practices specialising in matters which occur only at sea, or involve the maritime industry or those using its services. This includes financing, logistics, transactions, and insurance and crisis management matters. 

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Firm Profiles: Australia

2017: Leading Firms

We are pleased to present our newest country special report: Who’s Who Legal: Australia. Although we have covered the leading Australian practitioners in our international practice area publications for two decades, we have never before brought together this research in one publication.

The breadth, depth and quality of legal practice in Australia is extremely strong, and this is reflected in our research. In total, 720 lawyers and experts from 167 firms combine to produce 825 listings across our 31 chapters. The top five firms in our research – Clayton Utz, King & Wood Mallesons, Herbert Smith Freehills, Allens and Ashurst – together make up 40 per cent of these listings. Others, such as MinterEllison, Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Gilbert + Tobin also perform well, gaining over 30 listings each.

Below, we profile the 10 firms who secured the most listings in this year’s research, while the individual chapters that follow identify the leading names in each practice area.

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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.

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