Legal Market Overview
Despite ongoing Covid uncertainty, corporate law firms in Australia have been active in the transactional space, with the traditionally active Australian mid-market seeing major deals in the resources, technology, retail, and food and beverage sectors. One blockbuster deal was AB InBev’s sale of Carlton Breweries to Asahi for an estimated $16bn, a complex multi-jurisdictional transaction that produced work for a number of firms. In capital markets, the market saw a rise in M&A, secondary capital raisings and IPOs, particularly in the health and life sciences industries. In the competition space, the ACCC remains highly prone to intervention, with a series of sector investigations focusing on Big Tech in particular, while M&A transactions are regularly challenged. Cartel enforcement has also been an active source of work, as have changes to Australia’s foreign investment legislation.
The adminstration of Virgin Australia dominated the insolvency market, the aviation market having been more affected than other industries, in part due to government support programmes, which have seen a number of ‘zombie’ businesses shielded from insolvency proceedings, though restructurings and distressed acquisitions have been a staple for most practices.
Third-party litigation funders have been increasingly active due to the introduction of contingency fees, while increased government scrutiny has seen an uptick in class actions. In terms of financial services litigation, the findings of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services in its 2019 report have led to an increased level of activity by government regulators including the ASIC and APRA. Within the energy and resources sector, the Juukan Gorge incident involving giant Rio Tinto has led to an increased focus on ESG issues. Funds and institutional investors are even more aware of the need to support companies that align with their corporate and personal values and ethics following this major incident. This development has also prompted a growth in owner-side native title mandates, as Traditional Owners seek to protect against similar damage to cultural artefacts.
Broadly, the market remains dominated by the Big Six, comprising Allens, Clayton Utz, Ashurst, Gilbert + Tobin, King & Wood Mallesons and Herbert Smith Freehills – all major corporate firms that combine bench strength with broad practice area expertise. International players such as Baker McKenzie have a solid foothold, particularly within transactional work and the growing tech space, while the likes of White & Case and Clifford Chance continue to expand their presence. A number of domestic firms including Johnson Winter Slattery, Minter Ellison and Corrs Chambers Westgarth are also solid performers, often challenging the traditional Big Six for top mandates.