Big Six (law firms)

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The Big Six law firms, was a historical term used to refer to the six largest Australian law firms by revenue and head count[1][2][3][4][5] before four merged or formed association relationships with firms from other countries (the United Kingdom for three of them, China for one of them) in 2012.

Before 2012, the following firms were generally seen as composing the Big Six (listed alphabetically):[6]

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 As a consequence, it has been proposed that the "Big Six" as a term is no longer applicable to the Australian legal profession and has been displaced by the concept of the 'global elite' law firms or 'international business law firms'.[7]

Developments since 2012[edit]

From 1 March 2012, Blake Dawson traded as "Ashurst Australia"[8] until a full financial merger with Ashurst LLP on 1 November 2013; the full merger took place six months ahead of schedule.[9]

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 association-structured association among 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.[10] In 2013, King & Wood Mallesons further merged with London-headquartered "Silver Circle" law firm SJ Berwin,[11] although that practice ceased operations in 2017.[12][13][14]

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.[15][16]

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".[17][18]

The expansion of other, non-"Big Six" law firms in Australia has also changed the professional landscape. For instance, national commercial law firm HWL Ebsworth expanded dramatically over the last decade and in 2016 the firm had over 205 partners and 10 national offices, making it the largest law firm (measured by number of partners) in Australia.[19]

Historical Size and ranking[edit]

The majority of the six firms were among the 100 largest law firms globally. In terms of revenue these are:

Firm 2010 rank[20] 2011 rank[21] 2012 rank[22]
Minter Ellison 83 67 82
Mallesons Stephen Jaques 87 75 70
Allens Arthur Robinson 90 73 72
Freehills 91 70 58
Clayton Utz 97 83 77

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.[23]

The BRW lists these firms in its Top 500 Private Companies tables based on gross income.:[24]

In the 2011/2012 Australian financial year, the law firms with the highest revenue were as follows:[25]

Rank Firm Revenue
1 Freehills $565,000,000
2 Clayton Utz $455,400,000
3 Allens $440,000,000
4 King & Wood Mallesons $424,000,000
5 Minter Ellison $419,203,000
6 Ashurst Australia $398,000,000

Until its closure, Business Review Weekly awarded its Client Choice Awards in the Best law firm, revenue over $200 million category to a law firm that delivers the best client service. In 2012 that firm was King & Wood Mallesons:[26] In 2013 the finalists for the award were (listed alphabetically):[27]

The Australian Financial Review then took over as the media partner for the Client Choice Awards after it acquired BRW[28].

Relationship with Magic Circle and Silver Circle[edit]

The Magic Circle is an informal term for UK-headquartered law firms with the largest revenues, the most international work and which consistently outperform the rest of the UK market on profitability. The Silver Circle is an informal term for perceived elite corporate law firms headquartered in the United Kingdom that are the main competitors for the magic circle.

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.

The term "big-six" is being borrowed to other contexts, including accounting and law firms in Hong Kong.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harvard Law School (2011). "The Australian Legal Profession" (PDF).
  2. ^ Michaela McNamara (29 July 2010). "The Big Six: Australia's Top Commercial Law Firms". Archived from the original on 23 July 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  3. ^ Michael Kirby (7 March 2002). "Australian Law Award Awards Function Westin Hotel, Sydney". High Court of Australia. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Beaton Research & Consulting (2012). An obituary for the term "Big 6" law firms in Australia Archived 2012-11-07 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  8. ^ "Blake Dawson Services Pty Ltd" (entry in database) in Company360 Archived March 30, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, 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."
  9. ^ "Ashurst's partners vote for full financial integration". 26 September 2013.
  10. ^ 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."
  12. ^ Coade, Melissa (27 December 2016). "King & Wood Mallesons Europe arm severed". Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  13. ^ "KWM - King & Wood Mallesons' plans for UK, Europe and the Middle East".
  14. ^ "KWM - Deutschland".
  15. ^ Allens Arthur Robinson. "Allens and Linklaters form integrated alliance".
  16. ^ "Linklaters, Allens Arthur Seal U.K.-Aussie Alliance". The American Lawyer.
  17. ^ Suzi Ring (28 June 2012). "Herbert Smith Freehills to go live as partners vote through merger". Legal Week. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  18. ^ Bloomberg (2012). Herbert Smith To Merge With Freehills, Open In New York. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  19. ^ "HWL Ebsworth eyes continued growth". HWL Ebsowrth. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  20. ^ "The Global 100 2010: The World's Highest Grossing Law Firms". The American Lawyer. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  21. ^ "The Global 100 2011: The World's Highest Grossing Law Firms". The American Lawyer. Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  22. ^ "The Global 100 2012: The World's Highest Grossing Law Firms". The American Lawyer. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  23. ^ "Freehills has firm grip on top spot in league tables". Lawyers Weekly Online. 16 October 2007. Archived from the original on 25 March 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  24. ^ "Codes and definitions", "Private sector shows resilience", "Top 500 private companies" (special issue) BRW (Sydney), 25 August 2011, p 50.
  25. ^ ""Australia's Top Law Firms Revealed", BRW (Sydney), 1 August 2012".
  26. ^ Kate Mills (15 March 2012). "BRW/Beaton Client Choice Awards: And the winners are..." Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  27. ^ "BRW Client Choice Awards Finalists 2013" (PDF). 30 January 2013. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  28. ^ Tadros, Edmund. "Client Choice Awards 2017". AFR. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  29. ^ Gillis, Paul (2014). The big four and the development of the accounting profession in China. The United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78350-486-2.