Big Six law firms
The Big Six law firms, was a term informally used in Australia to refer to the commercial law firms which, collectively, were the largest firms operating in Australia in terms of revenue and lawyers employed, and perceived to be the most prestigious before four merged or formed association relationships with firms from other countries, primarily the United Kingdom, in 2012.
Before 2012, the following firms were generally seen as composing the Big Six (listed alphabetically):
- Allens Arthur Robinson (now Allens, which operates in association with Linklaters LLP)
- Blake Dawson (now part of Ashurst LLP)
- Clayton Utz
- Freehills (now part of Herbert Smith Freehills)
- Mallesons Stephen Jaques (now part of King & Wood Mallesons)
- Minter Ellison
In 2012, three of these firms merged with overseas firms, and one other began operating in association with an overseas firm. As a consequence, it has proposed that the "Big Six" as a term is no longer applicable to the Australian legal profession, displaced by the concept of 'global elite' law firms or 'international business law firms'.
Developments since 2012
Mallesons Stephen Jaques is currently trading as King & Wood Mallesons, after a merger and reorganisation with Chinese firm King & Wood, which has resulted in a Swiss Verein-structured association amongst what was the Australian and UK practice of Mallesons Stephen Jaques, a fully merged, combined Hong Kong practice, and a fully merged, combined mainland China practice consisting mainly of the existing King & Wood practice. In 2013, King & Wood Mallesons further merged with London-headquartered "Silver Circle" law firm SJ Berwin.
Allens Arthur Robinson changed its name to "Allens" on 1 May 2012, and began to operate in association with Magic Circle firm Linklaters. The association arrangements will see the firms operate with joint ventures in some parts of Asia, Allens practices merging into Linklaters practices in other parts, and the two firms operating jointly on certain matters.
Freehills merged with London-headquartered "Silver Circle" law firm Herbert Smith, effective from 1 October 2012. The full financial merger created a single, global firm called "Herbert Smith Freehills".
The term "Big Six" is also no longer technically applicable to the Australian top tier law firm market due to other national law firms emerging to become some of the Australia's largest law firms. For instance, national commercial law firm HWL Ebsworth expanded dramatically over the last decade and from 2015 is expected to have over 195 partners and 9 national offices, making it the second largest law firm (measured by number of partners) in Australia.
Size and ranking
The majority of the six firms were among the 100 largest law firms globally. In terms of revenue these are:
|Firm||2010 rank||2011 rank||2012 rank|
|Mallesons Stephen Jaques||87||75||70|
|Allens Arthur Robinson||90||73||72|
Several of these firms have also been leading firms in the Asia-Pacific region generally. In 2007, Allens Arthur Robinson, Clayton Utz, Freehills and Mallesons Stephen Jaques were the top five firms in the Asia Pacific region in mergers and acquisitions transactions, ranking above Magic Circle firm Linklaters.
In the 2011/2012 Australian financial year, the law firms with the highest revenue were as follows:
|4||King & Wood Mallesons||$424,000,000|
Each year Business Review Weekly awards a law firm that delivers the best client service its Client Choice Award in the Best law firm, revenue over $200 million category. In 2012 that firm was King & Wood Mallesons: In 2013 the finalists for the award were (listed alphabetically):
Relationship with Magic Circle and Silver Circle
The Magic Circle and Silver Circle are groups of UK-headquartered law firms which are regarded as the first- and second-ranked groups of law firms respectively among UK-headquartered law firms in terms of perceived prestige and size. The London-headquartered Magic Circle firms with operations in Australia, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, are not considered to be part of the same group as the "Big Six".
Following the mergers and association arrangements announced in 2012 and 2013, Freehills and Blake Dawson have become parts of UK-headquartered Silver Circle firms, while Allens is now in an association arrangement with a Magic Circle law firm. Mallesons Stephen Jaques became part of the same Swiss verein structure as a Silver Circle firm.
- Magic Circle (law): five firms with headquarters in London considered to be the leading firms in the United Kingdom
- Global Quartet (also Big Four): members of the Magic Circle other than Slaughter and May, which has, in general, not pursued a policy of expansion
- Golden Circle (used by The Economist, for example; also Silver Circle, which was coined by The Lawyer magazine in 2005): mid-market or boutique law firms in the UK with profits per partner levels similar to those of the Magic Circle but being much smaller in terms of overall turnover and numbers of lawyers
- White shoe firms (also Charmed Circle): New York City law firms considered to be the leading firms
- Seven Sisters: seven Canadian law firms considered to the leading firms
- Big Five: the five largest South African law firms
- Big Five: the five largest Singapore law firms
- Harvard Law School (2011). "The Australian Legal Profession".
- Michaela McNamara (29 July 2010). "The Big Six: Australia's Top Commercial Law Firms".
- Michael Kirby (2002-03-07). "Australian Law Award Awards Function Westin Hotel, Sydney". High Court of Australia. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
- Margaret Simons (4 August 2002), "Justice Inc.", The Sunday Age. Agenda. (Melbourne, Victoria): 1,
Today, almost all this has changed. The top 20 law firms in Australia account for 80 per cent of the nation's market for commercial legal services. At the beginning of the new century they earned more than $2.5 billion in fees, which is small beer by international standards. Now the top six, each of which has up to 1,000 lawyers working for them, are moving into the Asia-Pacific region in a quest for market share.
- Kenneth Nguyen (22 May 2007), Stags in Slater & Gordon share some class action - a 40% win (The Sydney Morning Herald), John Fairfax Holdings Limited., p. 21,
Though Slater & Gordon is a well-known law firm, its market capitalisation of $151 million would be dwarfed if any of Australia's "big six" law firms - Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson Waldron, Clayton Utz, Freehills, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Minter Ellison - decided to float.
- Carolyn Cummins (10 July 2010), Law firms compete for CBD space (The Sydney Morning Herald), John Fairfax Holdings Limited., p. 18,
"The Australian market appears mature and advanced enough to warrant outside players to the existing big six law firms of Allens, Blakes, Clayton Utz, Freehills, Mallesons and Minters," Mr Berriman said.
- Beaton Research & Consulting (2012). An obituary for the term "Big 6" law firms in Australia. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
- "Blake Dawson Services Pty Ltd" (entry in database) in Company360, Dun & Bradstreet (Australia) Pty Ltd., accessed 2 March 2012; "Ashurst (formerly Blake Dawson Services) is a collaboration between former Australian commercial law firm Blake Dawson, and global firm Ashurst. Effective 1 March 2012, Blake Dawson will re-brand as Ashurst; a full financial merger is planned for 2014."
- "Ashurst's partners vote for full financial integration". 26 September 2013.
- Chris Merritt, "Big three not worried by new arrivals", The Australian, 24 February 2012 (All-round First edition), p 33; "THREE big national law firms have shrugged off the arrival of giant international competitors and have entrenched their position as the unchallenged home of the nation's elite lawyers. The lead of the big three over their international rivals has been identified by Chambers and Partners in the latest edition of its authoritative guide to the profession, Chambers Asia-Pacific. The guide shows that those practice groups that operate at an elite, or 'band one', level are concentrated in three firms: Freehills, Allens Arthur Robinson and Mallesons Stephen Jaques. ... From next week, Mallesons will enter a Swiss-style verein with China's King & Wood and become King & Wood Mallesons; Freehills is in the first stages of talks about a link with global giant Herbert Smith; and fourth-ranked Blake Dawson will next week adopt the name of its international alliance partner, Ashurst."
- KING & WOOD MALLESONS AND SJ BERWIN COMBINE TO CREATE FIRST GLOBAL LAW FIRM HEADQUARTERED IN ASIA. 2013-07-31
- Allens Arthur Robinson. "Allens and Linklaters form integrated alliance".
- "Linklaters, Allens Arthur Seal U.K.-Aussie Alliance". The American Lawyer.
- Suzi Ring (28 June 2012). "Herbert Smith Freehills to go live as partners vote through merger". Legal Week. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- Bloomberg (2012). Herbert Smith To Merge With Freehills, Open In New York. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- "HWL Ebsowrth significantly increases investment in South Australia with Lawson Smith Lawyers acquisition". HWL Ebsowrth. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
- "The Global 100 2010: The World's Highest Grossing Law Firms". The American Lawyer. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
- "The Global 100 2011: The World's Highest Grossing Law Firms". The American Lawyer. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
- "The Global 100 2012: The World's Highest Grossing Law Firms". The American Lawyer. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
- "Freehills has firm grip on top spot in league tables". Lawyers Weekly Online. 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- "Codes and definitions", "Private sector shows resilience", "Top 500 private companies" (special issue) BRW (Sydney), 25 August 2011, p 50.
- ""Australia's Top Law Firms Revealed", BRW (Sydney), 1 August 2012".
- Kate Mills (2012-03-15). "BRW/Beaton Client Choice Awards: And the winners are...". brw.com.au. Retrieved 2013-03-07.
- "BRW Client Choice Awards Finalists 2013". brw.com.au. 2013-01-30. Retrieved 2013-03-07.