Allens and Linklaters – seven years on
The Alliance is led by Leighton O'Brien and James Darcy at Allens and Nathalie Hobbs (Hong Kong) and James Inglis (London) at Linklaters. Seven years in, Leighton and James discuss what the alliance has meant for the two firms and what the future holds.
Seven years on from announcing our alliance with Linklaters, the relationship between the two firms has developed along the sort of lines that had been envisaged back in 2012.
A natural fit
It should surprise no-one that Allens and Linklaters are such well-aligned firms. The relationship between the two pre-dates the official signing by some distance, as James Inglis at Linklaters recalls.
My first exposure to Allens was back in 2006, when I was working very closely with them on some major transactions involving Rio Tinto, which was and remains a significant common client,' he says.
'The close working relationship developed at that time was probably one of the things that ultimately led to the formation of the formal Alliance and personally I've had a close relationship with Allens ever since. They have similar values to us – we like them and we trust them.'
The alliance advantage
The Alliance, of course, remains a unique structure in the context of the Australian legal market, which has become ever more competitive over the past decade. Different firms from the UK and the US have entered the market via an assortment of routes, from smaller greenfield sites to full-blown mergers with established Australian law firms.
Leighton O'Brien is not convinced that any of the major rivals have as much upside as Allens and Linklaters: 'Clients say that the uniform top tier quality we deliver across all markets is evident in our work and the seamless way we work together are real differentiators. The other magic circle firms who've hung out their shingle Down Under, Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance, are clearly quality firms but in Australia they're much smaller and narrower in their focus than we are as an Alliance. Another advantage of our Alliance structure is that it provides real flexibility, allowing us to shape our collaboration to pursue changes in the market.'
'The integration of the services that the two of us provide has gone really well,' confirms Leighton. 'The flow of people back and forth is at an all-time high, client referrals have also been rising in both directions and our clients know that whether they are dealing with Allens lawyers or their Linklaters colleagues, they will get the same calibre of service and the global reach to handle whatever they may need.'
When the Alliance was founded, much of its client focus was on the global natural resources boom that was then in full swing and post-GFC foreign direct investment into Australia.
'Up to around 2014 or 2015, that focus was still there and as I have seen first-hand in energy and infrastructure projects, there's no doubt that our CV has been hugely enhanced by working with Linklaters so closely, globally, of course, but also on domestic Australian projects,' Leighton observes.
'Since 2015, though, we've been diversifying the scope of our joint offering. Funds, particularly sovereign wealth funds, have become exceptional areas of strength for us, the TMT space has been very successful and we're even working together on some substantial dispute resolution and regulatory investigations, such as the fallout from the Hayne Royal Commission, which looked into alleged misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry in Australia.'
Developing relationships with investment funds has been a key focus for Linklaters in recent years as James explains: 'A number of the significant Australian investment funds have been very active as they look at infrastructure investment opportunities internationally – with our global footprint, this has been a natural area for us to collaborate with Allens.'
'We're always attempting to find new opportunities for the two firms across a broad range of practice areas and industries,' James continues.
'On the corporate side, shortly after the formation of the Alliance, we pitched together successfully to win an international M&A transaction from Brambles Ltd, an existing client of Allens – and we have followed this with a number of joint roles for Brambles, including its divestment of IFCO earlier this year for $2.5bn. This has been a great example of the two firms developing a client relationship together. It's always been a hallmark of the Alliance that the firms work together to provide the best team to meet the specific client need. We're both extremely aware that the success of the Alliance depends on the quality of the teams that we put in front of clients.'
Supporting career growth
The seamlessness of the service that Allens and Linklaters can provide as an Alliance is enhanced by the number of lawyers who have spent substantial time practising at both firms.
'It was great to see Charles Ashton recently make partner at Allens,' notes James. 'I know him well from the time he spent on secondment as an associate in our corporate team at Linklaters a few years ago.'
Jaime McKenzie, Michelle Bennett, James Kanabar and Chris Kerrigan are four other new Allens partners this year who've also worked at Linklaters. Leighton expands on the theme: 'Partner Gavin Smith, who heads the Allens TMT team, spent four years at Linklaters earlier in his career. Recently appointed partner in Singapore Adrian Fisher was with us for six years in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai before moving to Linklaters, Ross Schoeffel spent nearly seven years with us in Melbourne before moving to Linklaters and later becoming partner in London. Niranjan Arasaratnam is another who recently moved across from Allens to Linklaters, so there is real knowledge of how each other works.
'Of the partners who were made up this year at Allens, around 50% are either ex-Linklaters or have spent time on secondment there. There has been a strong flow between the firms on the business team side too. In Asia especially, the two firms hunt as a pack – it doesn't matter whether a deal or a case is run out of Perth, Bangkok, Tokyo or Brisbane.'
The original strategic rationale behind the formation of the Alliance continues to hold true. 'To some extent, part of the original Linklaters thinking that underpinned the Alliance was defensive,' James adds. 'The Australian market was very active, particularly in natural resources work, and we needed to make sure that we had high quality teams available to work with us there. At the time it was a market in a state of flux and we determined that Alliance met the needs of both firms most exactly, with the two firms remaining independent, while developing complementary practices that enabled us to provide a fully integrated service to clients. Seven years on, the market has evolved, creating a wide range of new opportunities for the firms to develop new client relationships together, and the Alliance has been working really well to offer clients the best of what both firms have to offer.'
Looking ahead, however, Leighton O'Brien wants to ensure that the integration of the two firms will be even-closer knit than is already the case. 'My goal on the people front is to get to the stage where every person at Allens has worked closely with teams at Linklaters,' he says.
'Allens itself was knitted together over a number of years from several different firms and today, it's a seamless operation where many of the lawyers can hardly remember a time when it was any different. That's the way I'd like the future to be for Allens and Linklaters – combining resources to provide exceptional service.'
'From our angle, it continues to work very well,' James concludes. 'The bottom line is that both firms have gained client relationships and work that we wouldn't otherwise have got without our Alliance and I'm sure that as time goes on, this will continue, as clients benefit from the combined strength of our two firms through the Alliance.'
This interview first appeared in Linklaters' alumni publication.