Freshfields eyes Australia launch as rush Down Under continues

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is weighing up plans to open in Australia as international law firms' interest in the region continues to grow.

The magic circle firm has spoken to several Australian partners in recent months about potential hires as it considers whether to launch a small M&A-focused offering in the country.

It is understood Freshfields has held talks with partners from Allens, King & Wood Mallesons and Herbert Smith Freehills, with a view to potentially opening in Sydney and Perth.

While talks are exploratory at this stage, partners at the firm confirmed that opening in Australia is being considered more seriously in light of Freshfields' new Singapore office, which opened last month – over five years after the firm pulled out of the Southeast Asian state.

One Freshfields partner said: "We have a number of Japanese and Asian clients continuing to focus on in-bound investment to Australia as well as some very good Australian clients.

"We have been talking to several Australian partners. The fact that we have Singapore now makes it easier to integrate Australia if we were to do something."

Partner opinion is divided about the possible move as, to date, Freshfields has maintained that it would not be interested in having an office in the region.

At present Freshfields and Slaughter and May are the only magic circle firms without a presence in the sought-after country, after Linklaters entered into an exclusive alliance with Allens in May. Other recent entrants to Australia include Herbert Smith, which merged with Freehills earlier this month.

Freshfields' potential launch would be comparable to Allen & Overy (A&O) and Clifford Chance (CC), which both entered Australia with the hire of individual teams rather than large-scale mergers. A&O opened in Sydney and Perth in March 2010 with the hire of a 17-partner team, the majority from Clayton Utz, while CC launched in the same cities in February that year through tie-ups with boutique firms Chang Pistilli & Simmons in Sydney and Cochrane Lishman Carson Luscombe in Perth.

Meanwhile, Clyde & Co hired a team of partners from Allens for its offices in Sydney and Perth, which opened on 1 October, while K&L Gates is currently in talks with local outfit Middletons.

A Freshfields spokesperson said: "We have no current plans to open an office in Australia."

By Suzanna Ring.

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