In Australia, the top tier law space is made up of six firms, formerly known as the Big Six. However, since four of the six merged or formed partnerships with law firms from the United Kingdom and China they are now referred to as Australia’s top tier of international law firms.
Altogether these firms are the largest by revenue in Australia with over $2.8 billion combined and tend to have the best client service, top talent and impactful deals. All six of these firms have made it into the top ten firms at some point in time and in 2019 due to record profits have all dramatically upped their intake of graduates. Let’s take a look at each one a bit more closely.
Herbert Smith Freehills (previously Freehills)
Herbert Smith Freehills is known as one of the world’s leading professional services businesses. The company has co-headquarters in London and Sydney and boasts an impressive 155 partners and 857 lawyers. Often described as a ‘juggernaut’ this corporate law firm dominates every award and ranking on offer. This is unsurprising with its 27 offices in New York City, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East.
Allens Linklaters (previously Allens)
Allens is a leading international law firm and together with Linklaters, they have 40 offices across 28 countries. In 2017 Allens was named‘Australian Law Firm of the Year’ by Chambers Asia Pacific. The firm holds notable alumni with a former Australian Prime Minister, High and Supreme Court Justices and a former President of the World Bank all adding to their list.
King & Wood Mallesons (previously Mallesons Stephen Jaques)
King & Wood Mallesons is a multinational law firm with offices in 14 countries. Its predecessor firms included King & Wood and Mallesons Stephen Jaques, previously one of Australias Big Six. With approximately 169 partners and 756 lawyers, the firm offers a wide range of services ranging from competition, trade and regulatory to taxation law.
Ashurst (previously Blake Dawson)
Founded in 1822 Ashurst is a multinational law firm that combined practices with Black Dawson in 2012 to become Ashurst Australia. Ashurst is a global full service firm headquartered in London and holds a sophisticated network of offices across the international platform.
Clayton Utz, established in 1833, is Australia’s largest full-service commercial law firm. The company is headquartered in Sydney and has over 1200 employees including 171 partners and 901 lawyers. Clayton Utz has lawyers around the country and featured prominently in the 2020 edition of Best Lawyers Australia. The firm won ‘Law Firm of the Year’ in the areas of Competition and Construction/Infrastructure. Through its adaption to change and independence, the firm continues to grow and thrive.
MinterEllison is a multinational professional services firm based in Australia. Their lawyers collaborate across Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the UK to achieve their goal – “to be our clients’ best partner.”The 2016 Acritas Brand Index awarded the firm in the top ten law firms in the Asia Pacific region and they were commended on their “top level litigation” and their “high value work.”
Future changes to the top 6
These top 6 positions in Australia are not set in stone and can become interchangeable at the drop of a hat. So who is hot on their heels in competition? The latest edition of Best Lawyers revealed that there are a number of other contenders.
Below is a list of the best firms by speciality.
Source: Best Lawyers.
As we can see there are a number of other law firms listed here that are not in the ‘Big Six.’ So who are they?
McCullough Robertson is a leading Australian independent law firm. They work in a large variety of sectors including aged care and retirement, education, financial services, food and agribusiness, government services, infrastructure and more. Currently, they hold more than 430 employees and 51 partners across their Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle offices.
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Founded in 1841 Corrs Chmabers Westgarth is an independent Australian commercial law firm that has relationships with law firms throughout Asia, America, the Middle
East and Europe. It operates in many areas of the law including arbitration, banking and finance, class actions, employment and labour, intellectual property and real estate law, to name a few.
Johnson, Winter and Slattery
Johnson, Winter and Slattery are a firm who act as legal counsel for prominent Australian and International corporations in business activities, disputes and difficult transactions. Starting in 1993 the firm has wasted no time in expanding across Australia, with four offices opening in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane over seven years – a remarkable achievement.
Gilbert + Tobin
Gilbert + Tobin are a leading transactions, regulatory and disputes firm who were established in 1998. They employ more than 700 people and are acknowledged as a ‘pioneer’ in providing pro bono services. They provide commercial legal solutions for ASX 100 leading companies, major infrastructure and services providers nationally as well as internationally.
HWL Ebsworth is a commercial law first that operates nationally in Australia. It is considered one of Australia’s leading national law firms and last year was ranked as the largest legal partnership in Australia by the Australian Financial Review. The firm holds over 1100 staff and 245 partners and is well established in the Australian law sector.
Since opening their doors in 1882 Sparke Helmore law firm has come a long way, with nine offices open across Australia and over 950 employees. They cover five areas of law including corporate and commercial, commercial insurance, government, statutory lines of insurance and workplace law.
In 2019 Russell Kennedy and Aitken Lawyers merged to create a stronger practice. The merger brought together a variety of specialities including corporate and commercial law, dispute resolution law, property and development law, government law, aged care and retirement living law, workplace relations and employment law, estate planning law, family law, rural services law and renewable energy law. The firm also obtains a dedicated pro bono team.
Norton Rose Fulbright
Norton Rose Fulbright is a global law firm with over 4,000 lawyers and other legal staff. It has offices in Australia, Europe, the United States, Canada, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa and is the second largest law firm in the United States.
Have you read our post about the global 10?