Ashurst aims for global leader status with Blake Dawson tie-up

Ashurst has taken a dramatic step to reposition itself as a credible global contender after agreeing a tie-up with Australian leader Blake Dawson.

The structure of the union will see the firms combine their Asian arms, with Blakes’ domestic Australian operation to rebrand as Ashurst in March 2012, bringing the combined business under a single brand.

Under the agreement, which was finalised in a vote by both partnerships on Friday (23 September), the firms have made a commitment to a full merger, subject to a number of conditions.

These are expected to include the 190-partner Blakes achieving set profitability and revenue targets in Australia. However, the full merger – which would result in a single global profit pool – is conditional upon a further vote by both partnerships, and will be initially considered in early 2014.

It is understood that Blakes’ profitability is already around 90% of that of Ashurst, which in 2010-11 achieved profits per equity partner of £723,000.

The union will be viewed as an attempt by Ashurst to dramatically reposition itself on the global stage – nearly doubling its revenues and massively increasing its presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The tie-up will create a firm with 419 partners operating under the Ashurst brand and combined revenues of £553m, with Blakes currently generating fee income of around £250m.

Ashurst senior partner Charlie Geffen (pictured) told Legal Week: “We think that the pace of change [in the global legal market] is going to become increasingly rapid. The premier firm of the future must have scale as well as quality – you are seeing this happen already and you have to be one thing or the other.”

He added: “This is a change of direction. It’s a big moment for the firm, it’s an exciting moment.”

Blake Dawson chairman Mary Padbury commented: “Combining our operations with a leading international firm will deliver significant competitive opportunities for both businesses, a greatly expanded international capability for our clients and exciting career prospects for our people.”

The merger comes after a two-year period which has seen renewed interest in the Australian market from UK firms, including strategic initiatives from Norton Rose, Allen & Overy, DLA Piper and Clifford Chance. However, Blakes is the first top-tier Australian practice to agree a tie-up with a foreign law firm.

In the coming months, Ashurst plans to set up a committee – chaired by Asia managing partner Geoffrey Green – to run the combined business in Asia.

The proposed tie-up with Blakes, first revealed by Legal Week in June, would significantly boost Ashurst’s footprint in Asia. According to its website, Blakes has 13 partners working across offices in Shanghai, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Tokyo, and an associated Indonesian firm in addition to its Australian practice, which comprises Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Adelaide.

Meanwhile, Ashurst has 18 partners working in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore. Ashurst has been planning a greater push into the buoyant Asian market for some time.

Green commented: “Our firms have worked together successfully in Asia for nearly 10 years. The combination is a natural development of our relationship. [...] We look forward to full integration.”