Global firm rubbishes Australia focus claims

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Ashurst global managing partner Paul Jenkins has denied claims the firm is shifting focus from the UK to Australia, three years following the Blake Dawson merger.

“Its moves into Australia and the Far East have caused division at the top – and underlined the continuing shift in the centre of gravity at the one-time blue-blood City player,” a report by Rachel Moloney published in The Lawyer said.

Partner movement and declining revenue were the indicators the firm had slipped from its former glory as a “blue-blood City player”.

Speaking with Australasian Lawyer, Jenkins said the number of lateral hires have more than offset the number of partner departures.

“All firms are affected by the increased mobility in the market,” he said.

“We’ve also benefited from that mobility as well so notwithstanding the departures that have been reported, since the start of last year, we’ve had over 30 laterals joining us as well.”

And in terms of revenue, Jenkins said while last year was a tough financial year, in part due to significant investments the firm had to make, this financial year has started off well.

“What we are seeing this year is some positive growth in the business,” he said.

“We are on budget and performing very strongly.”

Moloney said appointing Australian Jenkins to the top job signifies a focus down under, “when at least some senior folk at the firm are wearying of the Australian dream”.

While Jenkins denied the firm is pinning all hopes on Australia, he told Australasian Lawyer that the Asia-Pacific region continues to be an important growth market for the firm.

“It accounts for 40% of the global economy and it stands to deliver nearly two thirds of global growth,” he said.

Ashurst has acted on major cross boarder deals in the past few months, acting for Nippon Life in the close of its $2.4bn acquisition of MLC, the largest ever Chinese investment into the UK, the Hinkley Point nuclear power station and Korea Post’s €176 m acquisition of the Paris headquarters of investment bank Natixis.

But the firm is also seeing a lot of work coming from continental Europe, as well as new opportunities post this year’s Brexit vote.

“While there was a period of uncertainty in the UK, particularly in the four weeks after the vote, what we are seeing now is significant opportunity arising from the easing of monetary policy and the weakening pound, there is a lot of M&A and infrastructure opportunities arising in that market, together with a resurgence in new financing work,” Jenkins said.

“We saw a strong period of activity in August and also in September. 

“It is unclear as to whether there will be a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, and that’s leading to some volatility in the market.  Some of our clients see this an opportunity and others as a challenge for us, it is about assisting our clients navigate through this period of change.”