On Monday international firm Bird & Bird revealed it was moving into Australia and merging with Sydney-based Truman Hoyle. We speak to the new managing partner about the decision
The move follows a successful co-operation agreement which the two firms entered into in March last year, and it will bring the total number of Bird & Bird offices to 27.
On the day of the merger, the total headcount at Bird & Bird Australia will be 42, comprising 25 fee earners and 9 partners.
It was also announced that the new Australian office will be headed by Shane Barber, the current managing partner of Truman Hoyle.
Australasian Lawyer spoke with Barber about the decision to merge with the global giant, the opportunities it lends, and what future plans he has for the Australian office.
He says that although when the two firms started a formal relationship 18 months ago the idea was to remain separate entities that work closely and co-operatively, he increasingly found that clients in the industries Truman Hoyle services were looking for coverage on issues such as data protection and privacy on both a regional and global basis.
“Clients were expressly asking us what our global capacity was,” he says. “It seemed like a natural progression for us to go from being a focused national legal firm, to go and join the best players in the [new economy] market we service.”
Barber is excited to take on the managing partner role for Australia’s new Bird & Bird office, and says that rather than adding an extra workload, he thinks his job may actually get easier.
As well as being managing partner, the lawyer also enjoys doing client work and currently juggles an impressive work-load.
“It’s a full day,” he laughs. “But the nature of our firm is there’s a lot of partners and staff members that pitch in… [With the new role] we’ll have access to regional and international human and marketing resources. I’m looking forward to it being a little bit more streamlined, while still keeping a full client load.”
For the Truman Hoyle team, the merger means unrivalled access to sophisticated thought leadership, and big global clients and transactions.
It will be fantastic experience for the younger lawyers in the firm, says Barber, adding that they’re already getting excited about the prospect of secondments abroad.
And Bird & Bird wins because merging with the Truman Hoyle provides an easy path to growing its presence in the Asia Pacific Region.
“It’s the region they really want to be involved in. I think adding an already well-established office in Sydney really starts to add critical mass to the Asia Pacific offering…We’ve also got skills that will enhance the skill set of the firm,” says Barber.
Mergers with existing firms make far more sense than opening up a green site, he adds. By tapping into the client base of an existing firm, it makes entering a new market significantly easier.
And although we’ve already seen our fair share of mergers between major generalist global firms and Australian nationals, Barber predicts that this latest kind of merger – one between niche specialists – could become the next big trend.
“The big [generalist] moves have largely happened, but what we’re seeing now is that specialist players have started opening offices in Australia to service niche sectors, but they’re doing it at a scale that makes sense…I think we should expect to see a few more firms doing that,” he says.
In terms of the future for the new Bird & Bird office, the managing partner reveals there are immediate plans to grow the office, and says he’d like to double its current size, which at the moment includes eight partners and three special counsel.
Because Bird & Bird is particularly renowned for contentious intellectual property work, it will be an area the Australian office will look at growing as well, says Barber.
“We’ll do it in an orderly way over the next 12-18 months.”