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International Legal News Roundup: Cost-cutting at law firms but COVID-19 energizing capital markets

Transactions are on the rise as organizations race to shore up resources

International Legal News Roundup: Cost-cutting at law firms but COVID-19 energizing capital markets

April’s headlines have so far been dominated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Australian legal industry.

Firms continue to manoeuvre, implementing steps that include flexible work arrangements and delayed partner draws, to blunt the impact of the crisis. Norton Rose Fulbright announced “prudent measures” earlier this month, while Ashurst also introduced cost-cutting measures through its “Stronger Together” program.

It’s not all gloom and doom, however, as firms are also benefiting from increased activity in some areas, particularly in equity capital markets, where there have been more transactions as organisations race to shore up resources needed to face the crisis.

Allens recently confirmed that it acted on several transactions, helping clients raise more than $4bn since the start of April. Other blockbuster raisings include Auckland Airport’s NZ$1.2bn raising, on which King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) advised. KWM also recently assisted Australia’s largest travel retailer on a $700m capital raising.

Corrs Chambers Westgarth, which recently helped raise about $450m for clients, said that the recent transactions show the value of clients having a grasp of the options available to them.

Other firms notched first for clients during the crisis. DLA Piper acted on first raising to use the new ASX class-waiver relief unveiled at the end of the month. K&L Gates guided pharmaceutical wholesalers to closer collaboration that needed government approvals.

Some transactions may look routine on the surface, but an added layer of complexity has been added by the current pandemic. Allens helped on a US$300m refinance. HWL Ebsworth helped a real estate investment trust fund an acquisition. Arnold Bloch Leibler counselled a billionaire family wanting to shore up their business. Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Gilbert + Tobin (G+T) both acted on an $880m institutional placement

In addition to the increased deals in the capital markets space, several firms also had good news in Australia. Ashurst picked the country to launch Ashurst Consulting, with the aim of eventually rolling out the business throughout its global network.

Some firms continued with their national expansion. Others promoted several partners – or laterally hired them. HSF’s latest global promotions round was even dominated by Australia.

It is without a doubt a challenging month, however, especially in the courts across Australia, which have had to make significant adjustments to cope with the pandemic. Some moves made by governments have also caused controversy, especially the Australian Capital Territory’s abrogation of the right to trial by jury. Other major headlines from the courts this month were a massive data breach at the Federal Court, and the overturning of the convictions of Cardinal George Pell.

In the practise of law, several studies have come out detailing findings about the effect of COVID-19 on legal professionals. One study showed the biggest personal challenges faced by in-house counsel amid the pandemic. Another found that anxiety and isolation challenged lawyers more than technology in remote working. Another study suggested what a sustainable post-pandemic in-house legal team should look like.

NZ Lawyer

Transitioning from the end of March when new Zealand firms migrated to remote working to adapt as the pandemic worsened, April brought news of several promotions and appointments among the country’s firms as well as the courts.

Justice Susan Thomas was named chief judge of the High Court of New Zealand. Wynn Williams promoted one to special counsel and welcomed an associate to the firm. Russell McVeagh elevated a construction expert to partner. AWS Legal also named a new partner, while Todd & Walker elevated two to two to principal. Hudson Gavin Martin boosted its senior ranks with new promotions. But the biggest rounds were announced by Duncan Cotterill, which elevated 18 lawyers, and Greenwood Roche, which appointed a partner and promoted 11 other lawyers.

As with Australia, New Zealand’s courts had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, with updates regularly sent out. The Law Society has also been busy, including guiding policy amid the crisis and urging for help for sectors that need assistance. Lawyers have also been busy amid the crisis, including forming new associations.

In terms of deals, Bell Gully helped the New Zealand Defence Force upgrade its radio capabilities, Russell McVeagh advised Auckland Airport on its massive capital raising, and MinterEllisonRuddWatts helped complete a major sale in the challenging economic environment.

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