DWF closes offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle in major Australia strategy shift

Listed UK firm to focus on 'core sectors' and Connected Services at expected loss of nearly 100 jobs

Listed UK law firm DWF is closing offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle at the expected loss of nearly 100 jobs in a major scaling back of its legal capability in Australia.

The move represents a dramatic strategy shift for the firm, which grew rapidly in Australia after launching in 2017. In a statement released today, the firm said it estimated the closures would lead to the loss of 99 jobs including 14 principal lawyers, or partners, after a formal consultation process.

Under the plans, the firm will maintain its Brisbane law office alongside its Connected Services operations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, which offer a range of services including claims management and adjusting as well as managed legal services via its DWF Mindcrest arm, which it established following its acquisition of Chicago-based Mindcrest in January last year.

DWF said the move would be “earnings enhancing” for its Australian business, although it was expecting a loss of from £3-4m for the current financial year.

The measures follow on from a downsizing of its international network last year in a cost-cutting drive initiated in response to the impact of Covid-19. That saw the firm close its Brussels and Singapore offices and reduce the size of its Dubai and Cologne arms at a loss of 60 jobs including 13 partners.

In Australia, the firm is holding on to the Brisbane office it secured in 2018 with the acquisition of international firm Kaden Boriss’s Australian practice, which specialised in insurance law. 

It said the strategy shift would “allow a leaner Australian business to focus on institutional clients and core sectors, such as insurance, which have a stronger strategic fit for the group and offer the best opportunity for sustainable and profitable growth”.

Chief executive Sir Nigel Knowles added: "Whilst we will part company with valued friends and colleagues in some locations, we retain a strong and respected team in Brisbane, with a renewed emphasis on our insurance practice. 

“We also retain Connected Services in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and will continue to bring our Mindcrest offering to this market. We remain committed to the Australian market and wish our departing colleagues well as they transition their practices.”

He added that the firm was approaching its April year-end with confidence having seen strong activity levels in the third quarter and a busy start to Q4.

Last November, the firm unveiled a 14% increase in first-half revenue to £147m against pre-tax profits of £13m and said activity was returning to pre-Covid levels while ‘strict control of overheads’ combined with a cost-cutting programme implemented over the summer was improving margins.

Last month, the firm began reinvesting in its Dubai practice with the hire of insurance partner Brian Boahene from Ince. 

Knowles, former head of DLA Piper, stepped back into front line management from DWF's chairman role when he took over from Andrew Leaitherland as chief executive last May as the firm admitted to experiencing ‘greater than anticipated’ disruption from the impact of Covid-19.

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