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The increased intervention of regulatory authorities continues to be a trend in the Australian market. The Banking Royal Commission has dominated national news and the legal sector since late 2017, examining misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services sectors. The majority of firms are representing clients involved in the inquiry or advising on the potential fallout the investigation will bring.

The commission has already given rise to one class action, with many more expected against insurers and their directors, officers and intermediaries. Class actions are increasing in number overall, making them a growing disputes area, aided by an influx of capital from the UK and USA into the litigation-funding industry.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) continues its shift towards increasingly stringent regulation. The first successful cartel prosecution occurred in August 2017 and since then, three further cases have been brought by the regulator. The end result has been a considerable uptick in advisory work as companies take heed of the significant consequences of cartel conduct.

In intellectual property, there has been an increase in corporations buying up patent rights and trying to secure license-revenue streams from manufacturers in Australia. Trade mark firms consolidating into publicly listed entities has continued, which has opened up IP practices in traditional law firms to more work, as clients seek to take trade mark prosecution to practices with more senior lawyers working on the matters. It has also sparked a hiring spree as trade mark attorneys seek to remain in traditional law firms. Defamation proceedings continue to make headlines in the media and entertainment space, notably in relation to comments made on social media.

Labour and employment lawyers note that the international impact of the #MeToo movement has reached Australia, with firms seeing a notable increase in sexual harassment and general bullying issues. Union work also remains prominent along with unfair dismissals, executive departures and employee transfers.

The real estate market continues on its upwards trajectory, prompting a number of firms to expand their practices. Large-scale developments and social housing projects continue to be commissioned in Sydney and Melbourne in view of population growth, while the ‘build-to-rent’ market is increasingly taking root. The mandatory roll-out of paperless conveyancing has been embraced by some teams and has presented challenges for others.

Infrastructure, construction and project development work, including project finance, keep on booming. Infrastructure Australia, the government body that prioritises nationally significant infrastructure, has identified close to 100 projects – to be completed over the next 30 years – that it considers to be imperative to ease the growing pressures on existing transport links. Law firms benefit from this trend, but teams are stretched and some firms have resorted to bringing in partners from other jurisdictions to stem the every-increasing workload of road, rail and transport infrastructure matters as well as hospital, prison and student accommodation projects.

The Australian legal market has certainly been buoyant in 2017 and 2018, and based on the current pipeline of work, this trend is set to continue for at least the next five years. In terms of firms, the market has seen some consolidation: Henry Davis York’s combination with Norton Rose Fulbright, DibbsBarker’s merger with Dentons and TressCox becoming part of HWL Ebsworth has effectively removed three Australian domestic firms from the legal landscape. Clayton Utz, Allens, Minter Ellison, Gilbert + Tobin and Corrs Chambers Westgarth remain the domestic firms of note. At the same time, international entrants continue to expand their presence, notably Pinsent Masons LLP and White & Case LLP in the booming construction, infrastructure and projects sectors.

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