Solicitors governing body: The Law Council of Australia
Competition authority: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
Financial regulator: Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
IFLR1000 ranking categories for this jurisdiction:
The Australian legal system is complicated, and this is not helped by the fact that it operates a federal system of government. Its jurisprudence is based on the English common law, but it has eight legal systems; one federal system and eight state and territory legal systems, each having its own court and parliament. So each of these nine legal systems has a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary.
The country's mining boom fueled by strong Chinese demand had attracted a number of international firms to the market. For the magic and silver circle firms of the UK, this was a relatively easy move as the two countries have a legal system based on common law, and a shared culture and language. International firms entered the market in their own right or partnered with domestic brands in a variety of ways, including mergers and alliances. A number of medium sized Australian firms flourished and became substantial players on the national and even international stage.
In the period between 2009 and 2012, there was a lot of movement as Ashurst tied up with Blake Dawson, Herbert Smith combined with Freehills, Norton Rose Fulbright merged with Sydney’s Deacons, and Linklaters allied with Allens Arthur Robinson. Mallesons Stephen Jaques went down an unprecedented route as it combined with China’s King & Wood to create the world’s first Sino-Australian law firm. Out of Australia’s ‘Big Six’—the informal moniker given to Australia’s most prestigious firms—only Clayton Utz and Minter Ellison remained independent. Global firms like Clifford Chance entered with a ‘wait and see’ approach, starting small and building up. Rather than teaming up with a large Australian firm, it merged with boutiques Chang Pistilli & Simmons in Sydney and Cochrane Lishman Carson Luscombe in Perth. Bird & Bird took a similar approach and tied up with Sydney’s Truman Hoyle focusing on technology and intellectual property.
These developments have fragmented the market and made it more competitive and fluid. For the internationals, there has been a pivot towards Asia with an increasing number of cases of Australian talent being transferred to the money-centres in Hong Kong and Singapore. Market factors have also encouraged mid-tier national firms to consolidate to stay competitive.
Finance is traditionally the forte of Allen & Overy, which is closely aligned to its strong international network and particularly active in Asia-Pacific. The firm attracts high-end banking work, and aviation-focused structured and asset, leveraged, and project finance work.
Indicative of the tightening availability of bank funding in real estate, the firm acted for Aspial Corporation and World Class Land in a highly structured transaction involving the issuance of notes backed by receivables owing under pre-sale contracts for apartments being built by World Class Land in Melbourne. Other capital markets highlights include advising Link Group on the second-largest equity capital raising to be conducted in Australia this year; and advising the Bank of Queensland on the first conditional pass-through (CPT) covered bond programme established by an Australian issuer.
In one M&A deal the firm advised Japanese staffing company Persol Holdings in its acquisition of ASX listed staffing company Programmed Maintenance Services.
Key clients of the firm include Link Group, Macquarie Capital, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services Australia, DBS Bank, Bank of Queensland, JPMorgan Securities, and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises.
"Excellent covered bonds, derivatives and securitisation firm." – Capital markets
"High quality equity capital markets team. Excellent partner, supported by solid senior associates.” – Capital markets
"Top class work delivered in a very timely way." - M&A
"Excellent. No weaknesses." - M&A, Project development, Banking and finance
Ashurst in Australia is known for its M&A, structured finance, and restructuring and insolvency work where it is ranked highest. Its national M&A practice has broad coverage spanning the east and west coast of Australia.
The firm’s structured finance team acted for arranger National Australia Bank in the first CPT covered bond programme established by an Australian issuer, namely Bank of Queensland.
One deal highlighting Ashurst’s M&A strength is its advice to Advance Energy – an Australian-led consortium comprising Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, AMP Capital, the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, and the Qatar Investment Authority – on its acquisition of a majority stake in Endeavour Energy, which is the New South Wales state electricity transmission company.
The projects team is acting for Transport for NSW (TfNSW) in the Sydney Metro Project, Australia's largest-ever public transport project.
Ashurst’s corporate practice has been on a recruitment drive hiring partners Dan Yang from Colin Biggers & Paisley, Ratha Nabanidham from MinterEllison, John Brewster from Clayton Utz, Nigel Deed from Norton Rose Fulbright, and Shane Kyriakou from Herbert Smith Freehills; while the practice lost partners David McManus and Ben Warne who both left private practice. The finance team brought in partner Chris Redden from Norton Rose Fulbright, but lost Graeme Tucker to Clayton Utz.
The firm’s client list includes names such as National Australia Bank, Qantas, Transport for NSW, ANZ Bank, JPMorgan, Blackstone, and KordaMentha.
"Proactive, commercial, and they provide clear guidance and advice. They understand their customer and provide risk as well as technical legal advice." – Banking and finance
"Good knowledge of the company and financing platform." – Banking and finance
"Quality work, responsive, hard-working lawyers and good to deal with." - Banking and finance, M&A, Capital markets
"Highly experienced in their field of practice; commercial and responsive; and offer excellent access to partners and senior associates." – Capital markets
"Excellent, commercial advice and reasonably priced." - M&A
"Excellent breadth and depth of experience and expertise with the team." - Project development, M&A
"Good interactions - no complaints. Very respectful when we ask questions and always looking for solutions that are in our interests." - Project development
Atanaskovic Hartnell is an M&A focused boutique that has been particularly busy this year acting for Bruce Gordon in his investment in the Australian television network, TEN.
For example, the firm kept busy advising Birketu as a guarantor in senior secured debt owed by TEN, in connection with its refinancing and entry into administration; advising the same client on a credit bid for control of TEN, made jointly with Illyria, the private investment vehicle of Lachlan Murdoch; and advising WIN Corporation and Birketu in the commencement of court proceedings and in seeking a range of orders against the administrators of TEN.
Key clients of the firm include Antofagasta, Boart Longyear, BlueScope, BHP Billiton, Challenger Financial Services, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Coca-Cola and Credit Suisse.
Baker McKenzie is ranked highest in banking in Australia, and is particularly known for its work in acquisition finance and project finance.
In the past 12 months the firm has been busy in renewable energy advising London-based Foresight Solar Fund on financing the acquisition of equity interests in three Queensland solar farms, Longreach, Oakey 1 and Oakey 2 solar farm projects, in addition to acting on the A$55 million project financing for Oakey 2 from Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
In other highlights the firm advised Foresight Solar Australia on the sale and debt financing of the 88MW Bannerton Solar Farm in Victoria; and acted for SolarReserve on all legal aspects of the development, construction, operation, financing and potential sell-down of a A$650 million 150MW solar thermal power plant in Port Augusta.
In the research period the firm brought in special counsel Adam Jeffrey from Herbert Smith & Freehills, but lost special counsel Hai-Dang Nguyen to Squire Patton Boggs.
Key clients of the firm include Genex Power, Highfield Resources, Platinum Equity, Bank of China, Bangkok Bank, Nomura Australia and National Australia Bank.
“Great breadth of expertise and depth of skill in its lawyers.” - Project development
Clifford Chance in Australia is best known for its work in projects and capital markets where it is ranked highest. The international firm has offices in Perth and Sydney.
For example the firm kept busy acting for the sponsors Macquarie, Ørsted and Swancor Renewable Energy on the development of the Formosa Offshore Windfarm, which is the first offshore wind farm project in Asia; advising the lenders in relation to the financing of the development of the Tailem Bend Solar Farm in South Australia; and advising Eramet, the French multinational mining and metallurgy company, on the development of the Weda Bay Nickel project in Indonesia, one of the largest nickel projects in the world.
In other highlights the firm advised Deloitte in multiple proceedings arising from the collapse of the Dick Smith Group; advised the Carlyle Group on its acquisition of Accolade Wines Group from Champ Private Equity and Constellation Brands; and advised Royal Dutch Shell on the sale of 112 million shares in Australian oil and gas company Woodside.
Clifford Chance was hit with the retirement of Jon Carson and the departures of partners Justin Harris and Paul Vinci to Johnson Winter Slattery.
Key clients of the firm include Macquarie Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, Quadrant Energy, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas.
“Top class firm. Easy to deal with, approachable, commercial and prompt.” – Banking and finance
“Very knowledgeable and experienced team, some of the best in the market. Understand lenders' concerns and have the ability to get a deal done.” - Banking and finance
“The firm has very strong credentials in the Australian market and specialises in niche areas where its expertise is undoubted, such as infrastructure M&A, infrastructure debt and project finance. Its lead partner in this area is very strong and his mid-level support team is highly experienced. It works well as a team with both clients and counterparties.” - Banking and finance, M&A
DLA Piper in Australia is strongest in the projects space where it is ranked highest – especially in renewable energy and transport. The firm also handles notable work in the mining sector.
A banking highlight for the firm include advising Link Group in amending its debt facilities.
The firm has been active on project finance in the power sector, advising Equis Energy arrangements for the Tailem Bend solar power plant in South Australia; advising Clean Energy Finance Corporation on finance arrangements for the Bannerton Solar Park in Victoria; and advising CEFC on finance arrangements for the 55MW second stage of the Oakey Solar Farm in south-east Queensland.
The firm is developing a reputation for technology related IPOs, advising technology start-ups, fintech companies and other digital platform providers. For example, it acted for US fintech company Credible Labs on its IPO and listing on the ASX, which was the largest tech IPO raising of 2017.
Project work includes advising Auctus Minerals on its gold-copper Chillagoe project in North Queensland.
In restructuring the firm is acting for Deutsche Bank in relation to Paladin Energy’s administration process.
In the research period the firm lost projects M&A partner Simon Huxley to Allen & Overy, while David Nancarrow left for Byrnecut Australia, and Jane Hider for Corrs Chambers Westgarth. The firm also lost restructuring partner Macaire Bromley who left to pursue creative writing. Capital markets partner Catherine Merity left to join Maddocks, and banking partner Monique Stella left for Mills Oakley in Melbourne.
DLA Piper’s significant clients include Credible Labs, Equis Energy, Deutsche Bank, Molopo Energy, Riversdale Resources, and Auctus Minerals.
"Professional and efficient service." – Banking and finance
"They are well versed in the listing procedures and also managed other advisors involved in the IPO very well." – Capital markets
"Good cultural fit; work under pressure; good turnaround times; problem solvers." - M&A
"The team at DLA are great. Understand the business and work as part of the team." - Project development, Banking and finance
"Partner Kon Tsiakis is always over the details and always contactable. Great technical and commercial experience, and very responsive." – Restructuring and insolvency
Gilbert + Tobin is a strong independent firm in the Australian legal market that is best known for its M&A work and is reputable in the equity capital markets. The firm’s restructuring and insolvency practice is also gaining traction in the market.
In banking the firm acted for Reliance Rail in refinancing its debt.
Capital markets highlights include advising APN Property Group on Convenience Retail REIT’s IPO and listing on the ASX; and represented Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in the establishment of its Kangaroo Bond Programme.
In M&A the firm advised US based private equity firm Harbour Energy on its proposed acquisition of Santos, one of the largest oil an gas producers in Asia-Pacific; it advised Yancoal Australia’s independent board committee on its acquisition of Coal & Allied Industries from Rio Tinto; and acted for Quadrant Private Equity on its sale of the Real Pet Food Company to a consortium of investors led by Temasek, the New Hope Group and Hosen Capital.
In restructuring and insolvency, the firm advised the lenders to Slater & Gordon in highest profile restructure for a publicly listed company in the Australian market in 2017.
In the past 12 months the firm brought in corporate partners Costas Condoleon and Sophie Chen from MinterEllsion. It also brought in insolvency partner Peter Bowden from Norton Rose Fulbright. However, the firm suffered the departures of capital markets partner Duncan McGrath to Baker McKenzie and private equity partner Andrew Bullock to Adamantan Capital.
Key clients of the firm include Quadrant Private Equity, Reliance Rail, Harbour Energy, JPMorgan, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Macquarie Capital, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, and Carlyle.
"High quality law firm. Provides direct access to partners on transactions." – Banking and finance
"The teams we have used are excellent. On the banking side, Gail Christopher knows our business very well and is very responsive and thorough. She had good junior lawyers working with her on our matter, so the pricing was efficient. I had every confidence that Gail and her team were well across what we needed for the deal and that we would get sensible terms negotiated." – Banking and finance
"Best firm I have ever worked with - practical, commercial, innovative and cost conscious." - M&A
"Excellent firm. Innovative and cutting edge." – M&A
"Flexible, commercial and fast in their advice." - M&A, Capital markets
"Outstanding." - M&A
"She's a very knowledgeable, responsive and dedicated lawyer. I feel like I am in safe hands with Gail."
"He's extremely detailed, commercial, trustworthy, takes responsibility for the firm's work product and its delivery.”
“He's an outstanding mergers and acquisitions lawyer, especially in public market transactions.”
"Peter Cook is outstanding."
"Dominic is commercial, innovative and solutions focused."
"Tim Gordon is excellent."
"John is the best solicitor we have come across in 20 years."
"John is extremely high quality and experienced across a range of different financing products and markets. He's always available and makes you feel like your deal is the most important when the reality is that John and his team are running multiple transactions."
"Outstanding leveraged finance lawyer."
While King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) international aspirations have yielded mixed result, its corporate, finance and projects practices in Australia dominate the market. The firm also has a market leading kangaroo bond and hybrid debt capital markets practice, while increasingly taking key market share in the green, and social impact bonds markets.
The project finance team advised on refinancing stage one and the construction funding for stage two of Gold Coast Light Rail.
In the debt capital markets area the firm acted for Queensland Treasury in the state’s first social benefit bond to address indigenous disadvantage; advised Social Ventures Australia in Australia’s first social benefit bond in the area of mental health; and represented Australian Catholic University as the world’s first university to issue a sustainability bond.
In the equity capital markets the firm advised Bingo Industries in its IPO, which was 2017’s third largest ASX IPO.
In M&A the firm advised Westfield Corporation in its sale to European commercial property company, Unibail-Rodamco.
The firm’s restructuring team has been busy acting in Arrium Group’s restructuring.
In the research period the firm brought in finance partner Dale Rayner from Norton Rose Fulbright, but lost M&A partner Mark Weber to retirement. Equity capital markets partner Jonathan Grant returned to Australia after a secondment in China.
The firm has an impressive client roster that includes names such as National Australia Bank, Queensland Treasury, Westfield Corporation, HSBC, Macquarie, Amazon, and Transport for NSW.
"Highly commercial. Able not only to identify key issues but to work through how to close these out.” – Banking and finance
"King & Wood Mallesons have consistently provided excellent advice in respect of our acquisition and financing opportunities." – Capital markets
"Excellent knowledge of the law, and very good communicators of that knowledge. Efficient and effective. Very commercial and practical in applying the law and giving advice. Willing to pro-actively resolve issues lawyer-to-lawyer rather than escalate issues in front of clients. Professional in all aspects of their work. Can be expensive relative to peers but this is improving." – Capital markets, M&A
"Deep knowledge and experience in the team. Tough in negotiations." - Project development, Banking and finance
"KWM Australia is absolutely wonderful. Without the team supporting both me and my in-house team, we would not be able to deliver on our major projects." - Project development
MinterEllison is ranked highest in restructuring and insolvency where it enjoys tier one status. However, it has also developed a sturdy reputation in M&A, banking and project finance.
The firm is renowned for construction and real estate finance and advised Bankwest, National Australia Bank and Westpac in providing a cash facility to BGC to fund the acquisition of land in Perth and Rivervale in Western Australia and for the construction of the Westin Hotel and Aloft Hotel.
M&A highlights of the firm include advising CIMIC in its hostile takeover bid for UGL; advising Magellan Financial Group on the IPO and ASX listing of the Magellan Global Trust; and acting for the Cross Yarra Partnership of Capella Capital, Lendlease Engineering, John Holland and Bouygues Construction Australia in its successful bid to finance, design, construct and maintain the Melbourne Metro Tunnel and Stations Package for 25 years.
In restructuring and insolvency, the firm advised Steinhoff Asia-Pacific in its restructuring; advised PPB Advisory as receivers and managers for ASX-listed Australian media group Ten Network’s restructuring; and advised creditor Centerbridge Partners in the financial restructuring of mining services firm Boart Longyear.
In the research period the firm’s private equity practice was strengthened as partner Chris Allen returned from Gilbert + Tobin.
Key clients of the firm include Yancoal Australia, Westpac, Bain Capital, Baring Private Equity Asia, National Australia Bank, PPB Advisory, Qantas Airways, and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
"Accessible, easy to deal with, and knowledgeable." – Banking and finance
"Excellent, client focused partners and staff." – Capital markets
"Good standard core financial services and banking practice covering my key areas of securitisation, MTN and banking. They take a very good, pragmatic and commercial approach to achieve my required outcomes." – Capital markets
"Ben Liu, the Minters partner we use, is exceptionally commercial, unlike any lawyer I have worked with." - M&A
"Great team with young and available partners. Very commercial and outcome-driven." – M&A
"Minter Ellison has an extremely strong team along the eastern seaboard of Australia. They have strong depth in each city and an excellent mix of technical expertise and commercial nous. Michael Hughes, Brendon Watkins and David O'Brien are engaging and experienced practitioners and well respected in the market. They have strong bench strength at younger levels, with Caitlin Murray, Nick Anson, Melinda Smith, Taline Chater, Michael Vickery and Cath McCrae giving further comfort on Minters' work." - M&A, Restructuring and insolvency
"I rate the performance of Minter Ellison highly, and consider their technical competence, service and value to for money to be very good." – Restructuring and insolvency
With Australian and US capability, Sullivan & Cromwell is best known for its capital markets work where it demonstrates expertise in notes offerings in the US, working with banks and corporates to access US funding.
Highlights include advising ANZ on its $2.75 billion rule 144A/regulation S offering of notes; advising Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) in its $3 billion offering of notes sold under CBA’s $50 billion US medium term notes programme; and advising Coronado Group in its acquisition of the Curragh coal mine in Queensland from Wesfarmers.
Key clients of the firm include Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Macquarie Bank, National Australia Bank, Fortescue Metals Group, Coronado Group and Telstra Corporation.
Thomson Geer is best known for its work in M&A, restructuring and insolvency and banking.
The firm has a strong financial services sector focus and is on the legal panels of the big four Australian banks.
Highlights include advising creditor Australia and New Zealand Banking Group in proceedings that arose out of the collapse of Australian mining and materials company Arrium; advising PPB Advisory as liquidators of DCM Green; and advising the administrators on issues arising from the failed thoroughbred horse breeding enterprise between entities controlled by Gerry Harvey and Nathan Tinkler, which involved large land holdings and multiple secured creditor claims.
In the research period the firm brought in partner Nora Minassian from Dentons, but lost partners Alex Linden and Matthew Pike to Henry William Lawyers and HWL Ebsworth Lawyers respectively.
Key clients of the firm include Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Patinack Farm Group, PPB Advisory, RSM Australia, Red Lea Chickens Group and Rabobank Australia.
In October 2018, in line with legal market trends of consolidation, Thomson Geer acquired the banking and finance focused independent firm Kemp Strang. Thomson Geer is now the fifth largest independent firm in Australia with a partnership of 110 lawyers.
“Generally good people to work with.” – Restructuring and insolvency
Calyton Utz is a strong Australian independent firm that excels in capital markets and restructuring and insolvency. It is no stranger to acting on the market’s largest IPOs, while its debt capital markets practice is broad enough to act lucratively on vanilla and high end mandates.
In one equity capital markets highlight the firm advised Toronto and NYSE-listed Canadian gold producer Kirkland Lake Gold list on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). On the debt side it acted for UBS in Suncorp Group’s offer of subordinated, perpetual, unsecured, convertible notes.
In M&A the firm advised Tatts Group on its merger with Tabcorp Holdings, which was the second largest public M&A transaction last year.
The firm's M&A team took a hit this year with the departures of partners Tony Lalor, Karen Evans-Cullen, Matt Johnson, and John Brewster to Mills Oakley, PwC, Hogan Lovells, and Ashurst respectively. However, it did bring in David Stammers from Ashurst and capital markets lawyer Olivia Jinks from Westpac.
The projects team continued to advise the State of Victoria on the planning and development of the North East Link – the largest transport project in Victoria's history.
The firm strengthened its corporate team with the hire of partner Stephanie Daveson from Corrs Chambers Westgarth. Its projects team brought in Graeme Tucker from Ashurst but was hit with the departures of partners Owen Hayford to PwC Legal, Stephen Boyle to Fleetwood Corporation, and Geoff Geha who retired to pursue other interests. David Ephraums in the banking team also left the partnership but is still employed as a consultant.
Key clients of the firm include Bain Capital, Pacific Equity Partners, North East Link Authority, Transport for NSW, Westpac Bank, UBS, and Permira.
"Keen attention to detail and the partner was always available." – Banking and finance
"Excellent relationship management; excellent and knowledgeable ECM partner in Stuart Byrne; and full service capabilities. They could offer more technology solutions for clients (i.e., client portal, precedent library, etc.)." – Banking and finance, Capital markets
"Work has been of a high quality and delivered in a timely manner." - Project development