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by Vault Law Editors | March 31, 2009


Law down under

Australia's legal industry is relatively small when compared to that of either the US or the UK, but it has also been growing quickly in the past decade. A large part of this growth is thanks to Australia's proximity to Asia. As economies in Asia have skyrocketed in recent years (particularly those of China and India), Australian law firms have been in a unique position to help multinational companies establish, develop and grow their businesses in the Asia Pacific region. Because of this reason, many firms in Australia have been expanding their practices in Asia, hiring specialists trained in the legal processes of India and China, and opening regional offices in places such as Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

There are an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 people employed by the legal industry in Australia, with a bit more than a third of them working as either solicitors or barristers. A 2001-2002 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that there was roughly one solicitor or barrister for every 550 Australians, and this figure is on the rise today. According to the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the number of people employed as legal professionals in the country increased by 15.3 percent from 2003 to 2007 and is projected to continue growing into at least 2013.

The legal industry in Australia has been somewhat shielded from the economic crisis that began in 2008, mainly due to the strength of various Asian economies on which the industry's clients rely. However, this began to change in late 2008 as the crisis increasingly impacted Asian economies, and has led to signs of a slowdown in the Australian legal community.

Where art thou?

Nearly 85 percent of Australia's legal market is based on the eastern seaboard, and nearly all of the large firms have offices in Sydney and Melbourne -- the corporate and financial hubs of the country. Most of the larger law firms also have offices nationwide with outposts in places such as Brisbane, Adelaide, Darwin, Perth and Canberra. Practices in Brisbane tend to focus on energy, infrastructure and commerce, while those in Perth are known for natural resources work. Law firms in Canberra, the nation's capital, handle a lot of government-related work.

Because of the strength of local firms, there are few foreign firms that operate in Australia, though the US-based superfirm Baker & Mackenzie maintains a strong presence in the country. Other foreign-based firms with practices in Australia, such as New York-based Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, primarily help Australian companies navigate foreign laws for doing business outside of the country. A number of Australian-based firms also have strong international partnerships. For example, Allens Arthur Robinson has a relationship with the UK firm Slaughter & May, and DLA Phillips Fox is a member of the global DLA Piper group.


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