Ashurst sets sights on strategic Australia deal

Ashurst has become the latest UK practice to set its sights on the Australian legal market, with the City law firm currently assessing its options in the strategically important jurisdiction.

Internal sources have cited the most ambitious option as pursuing a tie-up with leading Australian law firm Blake Dawson, with which Ashurst has held exploratory discussions.

According to one partner at the City firm, the ongoing discussions could manifest in a formal alliance or a joint venture focused heavily on the Asia and energy markets – two areas of shared interest.

It is understood that Ashurst senior partner Charlie Geffen and managing partner Simon Bromwich have led initial discussions over the move.

However, a full-blown merger would be viewed as an unlikely goal given the size of both firms and Ashurst’s historic aversion to large mergers.

One Ashurst partner commented: “An alliance with Blakes would be killing two birds with one stone – we had to do something in Australia, while further strengthening our Asian presence. Shanghai is of huge interest to the firm, and we have been considering how to service clients there for some time.”

Ashurst and Blakes have previously worked together as informal referral partners and both currently run offices in Tokyo and Singapore.

Ashurst launched a Hong Kong presence in 2008, where it practises local law alongside its international law practice, while the Australian firm operates two further offices in Shanghai and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, alongside its six Australian bases.

Ashurst’s foray into the market comes amid a renewed focus on Australia in light of significant moves in the jurisdiction in recent years by Norton Rose, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and DLA Piper.

Australian legal consultant George Beaton commented: “As Asia’s number one destination for outbound investment, Australia has been of interest to UK and US firms for years. Interest has increased in recent months following Clifford Chance’s tie-ups.”

Both Ashurst and Blakes declined to comment.