CC makes Australia debut with local mergers as Asia growth gathers pace

Clifford Chance (CC) is set to launch in Australia through a tie-up with local outfits Cochrane Lishman Carson Luscombe and Chang Pistilli & Simmons.

The tie-ups, which come less than three months after Legal Week revealed CC had been talking to both Australian firms, mark the firm’s first venture into Australia, with the deals gifting the magic circle firm offices in Perth and Sydney.

The merger, which will go live on 1 May 2011, will see both firms become fully financially integrated into CC, and take on the CC name. Equity partners in the two Australian firms will become equity partners at CC, while the firms’ salaried partners will remain salaried partners.

The mergers will give CC 14 partners on the ground in Australia, with others expected to be transferred from around the firm’s existing network. The initial focus for the practice will be high-end M&A work as well as litigation and finance.

The move comes as part of a wider push into the Asian region, with the firm aiming to double revenue there within four years. The magic circle firm currently has bases in Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo, and is considering adding further offices in due course. Indonesia and South Korea, where the legal market is due to liberalise later this year, are both potential locations for future offices.

Seven-partner Perth firm Cochrane Lishman was set up by two partners from Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Ian Cochrane and Michael Lishman, in 2006 and offers services in M&A, energy and resources, dispute resolution and corporate governance.

Chang Pistilli was set up the same year by a group of partners from Sydney outfit Atanaskovic Hartnell, including dispute resolution partner Diana Chang and M&A partners Mark Pistilli and Danny Simmons. The firm also has seven partners. The deal with Cochrane Lishman comes after initial talks between the two firms broke down at the close of last year.

CC managing partner David Childs (pictured) said the firm had chosen to merge with smaller boutique firms rather than one of Australia’s larger players because it does not want to have a full-service offering in Australia.

He said: “We know these firms based on understanding and observing the market, which we have been doing for a very long time. Since we are not trying to be full service, merging with boutique firms fits us very well. Culturally they are also a very good fit for us and the news has had a great reception also within CC.”

The firm also said that its strategy differs from those of City rivals Allen & Overy (A&O) and Norton Rose, both of which launched in Australia last year. Norton Rose has said it wants to use Australia as a platform to access the Asian market while A&O’s offering focuses on high-end finance work. Meanwhile CC will focus on Australian M&A, inbound investment and some cross-border financings.

CC previously tried to enter the Australian market in 2008 through a tie-up with Mallesons but the proposed union was aborted after months of discussion because of the market downturn. The two firms had also previously discussed merging in 1999.

Allen & Overy (A&O) and Norton Rose both launched offices in Australia in 2010. Norton Rose tied up with Deacons, while A&O hired a group of partners from Clayton Utz and Freehills.