Sullivan & Cromwell co-chair on celebrating 40 years in Australia

Scott Miller talks the firm’s evolution in the local market and what keeps him at the firm

Sullivan & Cromwell co-chair on celebrating 40 years in Australia
Scott Miller

Global firm Sullivan & Cromwell – one of the first US firms to enter the Australian market –recently logged a milestone anniversary as it hit 40 years of operating in Australia.

Co-chair Scott Miller stopped by Sydney and Melbourne last month to join the festivities, and in this exclusive interview with Australasian Lawyer, Miller tells us how Sullivan & Cromwell got started in Australia, what keeps him going at the firm, and nurturing homegrown legal talent.

As co-chair, what does it mean for you that Sullivan & Cromwell has hit 40 years in Australia?

We are tremendously proud to celebrate our 40th anniversary in Australia. When our past chairman John Merow championed the idea of an office in Australia, we had offices in only four cities in the US and Europe, with more than 90% of our lawyers in New York. He foresaw a significant opportunity for us to strengthen relationships with our Australian clients by being closer to them and by better understanding their day-to-day issues and needs.

Today, with more than half of our clients headquartered outside the US, our international presence and ability to deliver integrated client service throughout our 13 global offices is critical to our success. More importantly, we expect our global practice to continue to drive our growth in the coming years.

Since we opened our Melbourne office in 1983, S&C has been the leading law firm in the region for US capital markets financings, including US stock exchange listings by Australian issuers, privatizations by equity offering and other equity offerings.

We have been involved in some of the biggest transactions in Australia. Last year, we represented National Australia Bank in more than $9bn of notes offerings, including its largest bond offering into the US market, as well as BHP in its all-stock merger of its oil and gas portfolio with Woodside Energy. Valued at $28bn, that combination created a global top 10 independent energy company and the largest energy company listed on the Australian Securities Exchange.

We have also advised on some of the largest and most complex natural resource projects in the region, including the Australia Pacific LNG project, the first unconventional gas to liquefied natural gas project in the world, along with the North West Shelf LNG project, PNG LNG project and Lihir Gold project.

How does the firm plan to celebrate this milestone anniversary?

We marked the occasion with an intimate celebration with clients, alumni and friends of the firm in Sydney and Melbourne at the end of March. I am thrilled to be able to join the festivities in person for this milestone anniversary and look forward to celebrating with my colleagues and friends in Australia who have contributed immensely to the firm’s success in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

What makes the firm so keen to maintain its presence in Australia?

Over the years, S&C has built its reputation as a top global law firm in the region and the US counsel of choice to Australasian corporations in connection with their most transformative debt and equity offerings, bank and other financings, acquisitions and corporate governance matters. We are conscious of the many synergies between Australia and Asia; we continue to devote significant resources to Australia and the broader Asia-Pacific region to meet client demand and build on our strong regional reputation.

For example, we recently welcomed back partner Chris Beatty who will split his time between our Australia and Hong Kong offices. Chris returns to the region after nearly a decade in London, to augment the firm's finance, special situations and private credit practice in the region.

How, in your opinion, has the firm evolved in this period?

As you can imagine, a lot has changed at the firm in its nearly 150-year history and especially over the last 40 years. We were one of the first US law firms to open an office in Australia. We used to say we were a US firm in Australia, but now it’s far more accurate to describe us as a global firm in Australia. Our offices in Australia have always been linked closely with our network of offices and practices around the world, but advances in technology have accelerated this integrated global approach, and helped us to better serve our clients on cross-border transactions.

Despite the constantly changing environment, we’re proud that a few things remain unchanged. Our culture of collaboration and mentorship continues to attract top-talent lawyers to join our firm. We’re committed to supporting our people and fostering their professional and personal development and creating opportunities for the broadest community of young and talented lawyers as possible across all our offices. Our generalist model allows lawyers to reach across practice areas to work on matters and develop practices that excite them, and to support clients with knowledge from varied experiences.

What, in your opinion, has been the biggest challenge the firm has faced in the past 40 years, and how was the challenge handled?

Over the last 40 years, our firm has weathered a number of market swings and global events that have had a tremendous impact on our work for our clients. From the 2008 financial crisis to more recent events like the conflict in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates, cybersecurity threats and the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not strangers to uncertain and challenging times.

But there’s a reason we are a go-to law firm for companies in crisis, as we have seen in the US banking issues over recent weeks. Our multidisciplinary approach means that our litigators and corporate lawyers work very closely together on the same client problem, approaching it in a multidimensional way. We have dozens of lawyers with government and/or private sector experience. And most of our lawyers spend their entire careers with the firm. We have the brightest minds at the ready, willing to help each other out to reach the best possible outcomes for our clients.

How long have you served as co-chair, and what do you consider to be your best contribution to the firm in your tenure in the role?

Bob Giuffra and I officially became co-chairs at S&C in January 2022, with both of us still practicing – myself with a transactional and governance focus, and Bob as a litigator. We have over a decade of experience working together on the firm’s management committee and have been practicing law together for more than 30 years, so it was a natural fit for us to work together as co-chairs.

I am particularly proud of our continued commitment to supporting diversity in our global offices. Our people are as diverse as our practices, and we strive to provide the broadest possible set of opportunities for development and advancement. Our ongoing commitment to increasing and sustaining diversity helped us achieve Mansfield 5.0 certification last year.

What keeps you at Sullivan & Cromwell?

Two things: the work and the people. We have the honour and privilege to work on business matters that shape the world in which we live. This has always been a firm that has emphasised opportunities for lawyers and freedom for lawyers to develop and adapt their practice throughout their careers. That freedom, along with the support of such a collaborative culture, makes the practice at S&C continuously rewarding and engaging.

I’m gratified to be at a firm that views its culture as its most fundamental asset. Not many institutions around the world have such a consistent history and tradition. Most of our partners have spent their entire careers at S&C so we have a very tight-knit group that operates with a “one firm” feeling, even when we are thousands of miles apart. We value our community.

What’s on the horizon for you and the firm in the coming year?

As the first quarter of 2023 draws to a close, we can expect the market and economic uncertainties to endure. Our clients continue to face business challenges and regulatory scrutiny worldwide. We’ve seen recent instability in the financial sector that may affect our clients in all of the regions in which we operate. We also expect a continued focus on ESG, another issue S&C is well-positioned to advise on as we have integrated ESG capabilities within all of our core practices. We’re prepared to help our clients rise to these challenges and re-shape the future. Beyond that, our goals remain clear: We want to do cutting-edge work, recruit the best lawyers, and maintain our culture, which we think sets us apart.

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