Legal Market Overview
The Australian Bar is diverse, with striking differences between the Melbourne, Sydney, and Queensland markets. The New South Wales Bar features something more resembling a London model with clerks (albeit less hands-on with diary management than England and Wales), while the Victorian Bar follows the ‘list’ system, with practitioners working out of various sets united by a clerk responsible for the full list. Queensland chambers generally, but with a few exceptions, do not have clerks.
The Bar is dominated by broad commercial disputes work, with barristers representing companies and individual clients in large-scale contractual and director disputes, alongside insolvency and tax proceedings. Areas of greater focus include competition law, media and defamation, construction, white collar crime, and intellectual property. The sector of clients usually varies by state, with members major Queensland sets including Level Twenty Seven Chambers acting for many of the state’s major energy and resources companies, while Sydney and Melbourne sets such as Banco Chambers and List A Barristers have more of a focus on the financial services and technology spaces. Queensland-based practitioners have broader practices than those in other sets, combining commercial disputes, construction, resources, and public law expertise.
The market has been dominated in the past year by Covid-related cashflow disputes, real estate disputes relating to commercial leasing, and Australia’s ongoing large-scale infrastructure projects, which have naturally produced a number of construction issues. Major cases going through state and federal courts include ongoing litigation challenging Western Australia’s border shutdown due to the Covid pandemic brought by mining magnate and United Australia Party chairman Clive Palmer; the Lewis v Australian Capital Territory tort law ruling by the High Court that there was no such thing as ‘vindicatory damages’ under Australian law; and McDonald’s Corporation v Hungry Jack’s, a dispute between the US fast food chain and the Australian master franchisee of its arch-rival Burger King over the launch of a burger named the “Big Jack”.