NZ law firms unlikely to follow Australian firms down merger path

March 30, 2012 New Zealand law firms are unlikely to follow the lead of their neighbour Australia when it comes to forming alliances with large British or American law firms, according to industry experts.

According to Ashley Balls, a legal industry consultant in the UK and New Zealand, the “numbers don’t stack up” for New Zealand law firms to take the step of merging with a major player on the international legal scene.

The recent mergers involving Australian firms can be explained partly by lucrative mining work, particularly in Western Australia, and by the desire, on the part of international firms, to establish an entry point into the more lucrative and larger Asian market, via well-trained local operations. New Zealand’s lawyers are certainly well trained, but they don’t have the financial clout to attract the big firms.

“The future is in my view likely to see an elite group of international firms, perhaps 10 to 15 with 12 based in London and each having a network of offices in up to 30 jurisdictions. Beneath that will be another group of big (by New Zealand standards) firms operating as franchises and with a turnover of anything from US$100 million to US$1 billion. Below that will be the national firms who for geographical reasons my span a country or two.

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