As the profession continues to adjust to new ways of working, the 2021 Australasian Law Awards crowned the leading lawyers, firms and in-house legal departments in the region
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Australasian Lawyer kicked off the new year with a call for firms, lawyers, in-house departments, banks and accountancy firms across Australia and New Zealand to nominate those they considered to be the top of the pack in the region’s legal industry for the 2021 Australasian Law Awards. In line with the new normal, the nomination process was streamlined and simplified compared to previous years.
The awards team received a high volume of top-quality submissions during the nomination process, which ran from the end of January to mid-February. These nominations spotlighted different types of achievements, from individual contributions to the industry to team efforts in closing big deals. A massive panel of over 30 independent expert judges was called upon to review the submissions in a strict process to determine the finalists and winners across 31 categories. Continuing a tradition started last year, the awards also honoured excellence awardees in addition to the winners.
“The outstanding talent across the board was amazing to witness, and it was very difficult to choose between the varied stories, each with their own strengths,” said judge Elizabeth Carroll, chief legal counsel at IP Australia. “Recognising and rewarding the hard work of our profession feels particularly important in the current climate.”
Riding the wave of COVID-19
Being crowned at the Australasian Law Awards during such a challenging period was a big deal for the winners, given that many had been through significant changes to how they operated and delivered quality service to clients.
“The fundamentals of the job – working closely with our clients to understand their specific needs and add value to their business – remained the same; however, the approach became largely virtual with client meetings and events moving online,” said Andrew Pike, executive partner – east at big winner Herbert Smith Freehills. “Deal-making and litigation proceedings were largely conducted online too.”
Pike, who copped a win for Law Firm Leader of the Year (>200 Employees) said that in the face of the challenges created by the new processes, the firm had concentrated on maintaining strong relationships with clients and helped them address the “pressure points and opportunities” that arose in the course of the pandemic.
New law firm LegalVision, which nabbed the top prize for Law Firm of the Year (1–100 Lawyers), was able to capitalise on the chance to expand its business beyond Australia and into New Zealand while in the thick of COVID-19. The firm also maximised its membership offering LVConnect to meet client needs.
“Many businesses have had to cut down on costs as a result of COVID-19, and consequently we have seen a surge in enquiries from businesses looking for new law firms that offer more cost certainty,” said CEO Lachlan McKnight.
While flexibility has always been needed in in-house practices, Nova Entertainment group GC and company secretary Ben Willis said the pandemic had “amplified [the] juggle” of the daily “myriad, disparate challenges” that characterise this area of legal practice. “The unprecedented combination of novel workplace challenges, commercial frustration and volatile market conditions has required a shift in commercial strategy and governance, and an associated modification in how in-house lawyers support new-world business practices,” he said.
Rewarding supporting roles
The ability to thrive in the past year wasn’t based just on locking down the big deals and picking up individual achievements but also on knowing where to provide needed support. “In-house best practice is predicated upon a clear understanding of the business’s strategic ambitions and effective relationships with functional stakeholders. I encourage my team to integrate cross-functionally and form strong relationships with colleagues, with a view to better understanding the nature, scope and ambition of the workstreams they are advising on,” said Willis, who is also among the Australasian Law Awards judges.
“First and foremost, in-house lawyers should be commercially minded and consider how the advice they provide to stakeholders can support the business’s strategic objectives.” Carroll added that successfully serving in a supporting role during this time was crucial to helping nominees stand out.
“In-house lawyers stepping up to assist their organisations respond to COVID-19 demonstrates the true value of the in-house function. Many of the entries related to teams assisting their organisation to adapt to enormously difficult circumstances. The key role of in-house lawyers as problem-solvers was on display, and the support they offered to clients at their most challenging hour was incredible,” she said.
Firms also saw the positive outcomes of being willing to provide support not just to clients but to staff as well. KCL Law principal lawyer Sam Frey, who was named Law Firm Leader of the Year (<200 Employees), explained that the firm had responded to the pandemic by keeping all of its employees on.
“We retained all employees, both full-time and part-time, as well as employed additional lawyers in the areas of construction and family law. We did not make anyone redundant,” Frey said. “[We] maintained employee salaries and maintained employee safety and wellbeing.”
The Fold Legal, which was awarded Boutique Firm of the Year, kept its team together despite remote work arrangements by optimising its digital resources.
“We attended and hosted client meetings, events and training via video conference, and collaborated and socialised as a team through Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp – in many ways learning more about each other and our clients than we would have had the opportunity to otherwise,” partner Charmian Holmes said.
Looking to the horizon
With COVID-19 continuing its global rampage over a year later, the profession has come to accept that many of the novel approaches introduced due to the pandemic will be here to stay.
“Experience tells us that in our profession, evolution rather than revolution tends to be the way of things, even in the face of extraordinary challenges like COVID-19,” said Shane Barber, Bird & Bird Australia managing partner and one of the judges on the Australasian Law Awards panel. “There has been much acceleration in areas of change that were already underway – whether that be in relation to agile working, the use of legal tech solutions or the expansion of our services into adjacencies.”
Remote or hybrid working models are anticipated to be a part of the legal industry’s landscape in the long run, and the digitisation of the profession is expected to accelerate further. Nonetheless, Barber urges the industry to keep in mind that “we are a people profession”.
“We need to continue to keep making all of the incremental changes to the manner of our working that technology allows and circumstances require, but it’s our personal and professional skills that really matter at the end of the day,” he said.
The Australasian Law Awards was not exempt from having to incorporate major changes into its process and presentation. For the first time in the history of the awards, the winners were announced virtually in a series of breaking news features from 15 to 17 June. Read on for more information on the 2021 Australasian Law Awards winners and excellence awardees. Key Media and Australasian Lawyer congratulate the winners and nominees, who have exemplified excellence in the legal industry across the region.
- Australasian Lawyer called for nominations from firms, lawyers, in-house departments, banks and accountancy firms operating in Australia and New Zealand
- Over a five-week window, many quality nominations were received online via the nominations portal on the Australasian Law Awards website
- The awards team worked with Australasian Lawyer to supplement the nominations with research gleaned from the publication and narrow the field down to a list of finalists in each category
- The excellence awardees were announced online on 29 April, while the winners were unveiled in a series of breaking news stories on Australasian Lawyer over 15 June to 17 June
- A total of 31 categories were featured in the Australasian Law Awards that looked at achievements related to deals, firms, individual lawyers and in-house legal teams
- The pool for nominations was opened on 20 January and closed on 19 February
- Excellence awardees were announced via the Australasian Lawyer website and newsletter on 29 April
- The winners of the deal categories were announced on 15 June in a breaking news story
- The winners of the in-house categories were announced on 16 June in a breaking news story
- The winners of the industry and firm categories were announced on 17 June in a breaking news story
Here are the winners of Australasian Law Awards 2021:
Debt Market Deal of the Year
Winner: National Broadband Network medium-term notes issuance
- Firms: Allen & Overy, Allens Linklaters, nbn co Legal Team
- Accountant: Grant Samuel
- Banks: ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, Deutsche Bank, NAB, Westpac
Equity Market Deal of the Year
Winner: IOOF combined COVID super-sized placement and accelerated non-renounceable entitlement offer
- Firms: Allen & Overy, Allens, King & Wood Mallesons
- Accountant: EY
- Bank: Citigroup
Infrastructure & Projects Deal of the Year
Winner: Moranbah North-Grosvenor mining complex transaction
- Firms: Barbosa Müssnich Aragão Advogados, Clayton Utz, Freshfields, Linklaters, MinterEllison
- Accountants: EY, PwC
Insolvency & Restructuring Deal of the Year
Winner: Bain Capital acquisition of Virgin Australia
- Firm: Clayton Utz, Herbert Smith Freehills, Jones Day, K&L Gates
- Accountant: Deloitte
- Banks: Jefferies
Mid-Market Deal of the Year
Winner: BGH Capital acquisition of Healius Primary Care
- Firms: Allens, Herbert Smith Freehills, King Wood Mallesons
- Accountants: EY, PwC
- Banks: Morgan Stanley, UBS
M&A Deal of the Year
Winner: Vodafone Hutchison Australia acquisition of TPG Corporation
- Firms: Allens, Herbert Smith Freehills, Norton Rose Fulbright, Prolegis Lawyers
- Advisor: Lonergan Edwards & Associates
- Accountants: Deloitte, Herbert Smith Freehills, KPMG
- Banks: BofA Securities Inc, Deutsche Bank AG, Macquarie Capital
Banking & Financial Services In-house Team of the Year
Winner: Macquarie Capital Legal Team
Insurance In-house Team of the Year
Winner: AIA Australia
Young In-house Lawyer of the Year (30 or Under)
Winner: Esther Lee, NSW Treasury
Australian In-house Lawyer of the Year
Winner: Annie Haggar, Accenture
Australian In-house Team of the Year
Winner: Sydney Airport Legal Team
NZ In-house Team of the Year
Resolution Institute Australian Mediator of the Year
Winner: Dr. Anne Purcell, Resolution Partners
Legal Service Provider of the Year
Winner: Thomson Reuters Australia
NZ Deal Firm of the Year
Bell Gully Corporate
Australian Dealmaker of the Year
Winner: Tony Damian, Herbert Smith Freehills
NZ Dealmaker of the Year
Winner: Silvana Schenone, MinterEllisonRuddWatts
Corporate Citizen Firm of the Year
Winner: Clayton Utz
Excellence in Employee Health & Wellbeing
Excellence in Technology & Innovation
Winner: Gilbert + Tobin
Excellence Awardee: LodgeX Legal
Employment Law Specialist Firm of the Year
Winner: Harmers Workplace Lawyers
Excellence Awardee: McDonald Murholme
Insurance Specialist Firm of the Year
Boutique Firm of the Year
The Fold Legal
Wright Legal - Banking and Finance Lawyers
Young Private Practice Lawyer of the Year (30 or Under)
Winner: Kerrie Duong, Baker McKenzie
Law Firm Leader of the Year (<200 Employees)
Winner: Sam Frey, KCL Law
Law Firm Leader of the Year (>200 Employees)
Andrew Pike, Herbert Smith Freehills
Genevieve Collins, Lander & Rogers
State/Regional Firm of the Year
Winner: Keypoint Law
Law Firm of the Year (1-100 Lawyers)
Law Firm of the Year (101-500 Lawyers)
Winner: Gilbert + Tobin
Law Firm of the Year (>500 Lawyers)
Winner: Herbert Smith Freehills
Diversity Initiative of the Year