Big Six (law firms)
The Big Six law firms, was a historical term used to refer to the six largest Australian law firms by revenue and head count 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):
- 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 As a consequence, it has been proposed that the "Big Six" as a term is no longer applicable to the Australian legal profession and has been displaced by the concept of the 'global elite' law firms or 'international business law firms'.
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 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. In 2013, King & Wood Mallesons further merged with London-headquartered "Silver Circle" law firm SJ Berwin, although that practice ceased operations in 2017. 
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 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.
Historical 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 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.
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.
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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.
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- "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
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