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12 August 2020

Australian firms snap up corporate talent amid first recession in almost three decades

Gilbert + Tobin, Thomson Geer, and KHQ Lawyers among firms bolstering their deal teams

By Ben Rigby

Former Slaughter & May partner Susannah Macknay joins Gilbert + Tobin in Melbourne Shutterstock

Australian law firms have been beefing up their corporate ranks with a number of high-profile partner moves this month as the country suffers from its first recession in 29 years.

Gilbert + Tobin has hired partner Susannah Macknay from Slaughter & May in a rare lateral move away from the UK Magic Circle firm, while Thomson Geer has made a three-partner hire from DLA Piper. KHQ Lawyers has also taken on a four-strong pensions team from HWL Ebsworth.

Macknay, who specialises in M&A and equity capital markets advisory and transactional work, was a partner at Slaughters since 2014, where she developed sectoral experience in the financial services and telecoms field, including acting on Vodafone’s €19bn acquisition of Liberty Global’s CEE and German assets. 

She joins Gilbert + Tobin’s Melbourne office after almost 13 years at Slaughters in London. Her return to Melbourne comes 15 years after leaving the Victorian capital, currently in strict lockdown, to undertake postgraduate studies in law at Cambridge.    

Macknay commented that she looked forward “to bringing my international experience to advising clients on their most significant corporate transactions.”

Neil Pathak, co-head of the corporate group, said he was delighted Macknay had chosen to join Gilbert + Tobin in returning to Victoria, adding “Susannah’s commercial and technical excellence and dedication to clients will only strengthen our team.”

The firm previously hired veteran Sydney corporate partner Nathan Cahill, who specialises in supporting private equity, fund management, private offices, family businesses, and investment vehicles, from Minter Ellison in July. 

Cahill, who also sits on the board of the influential Australian Investment Council, is also dedicated to improving wellbeing in business life through a dedicated consultancy iWithin, which works with senior-level executives and is based on his former career as a personal trainer. 

Thomson Geer dips into DLA Piper 

Meanwhile, Australian national firm, Thomson Geer, has made a three-partner hire from DLA Piper, according to the Australian Financial Review

The 11-lawyer move saw a corporate team of Perth-based M&A lawyers exit DLA, led by partners Scott Gibson, Marc Wilshaw and Michael Bowen, who are said to be joining the 110-partner plus firm in September. 

According to the AFR, the DLA Perth team worked on deals valued at AUD1.3bn last year and 20 M&A deals worth AUD3.2bn, albeit prior to the pandemic.

The hires follow a 20-partner raid on Dentons in July, involving the departure of all of Dentons’ Brisbane-based partners, including property partners Matthew Rollason and Kirsten Pike, insolvency partner Scott Guthrie, and banking lawyer Jeff Baker. It also promoted real estate lawyer Joseph Ip to partner in the firm’s Melbourne office.

Thomson Geer’s chief executive Adrian Tembel said the move would include the sign-up of 16 lawyers and support staff in Brisbane and Melbourne to complete the investment.

Speaking in July, Tembel added: “My guess is we will take advantage of other investment opportunities during the recession. We held strong cash reserves prior to March and we continue to do so. That formula is always pretty useful in the middle of a recession.”

Elsewhere, independent law firm KHQ Lawyers hired four pension lawyers from national firm HWL Ebsworth. Led by partner-equivalent Natalie Cambrell, the team consists of two special counsels, Andrew Taylor and Damian Tarulli, and senior associate Sanela Osmanovic. They specialise in advising Australian pension funds, with a strong compliance, regulatory, and advisory practice. 

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