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Aussie Firms



Freehills is one of the older Australian firms with its beginnings dating back in 1838 (law firm history fans can pick up a copy of the book Freehills – A History of Australia’s first national law firm for all the thrilling details).

The firm – which boasts around 1,000 lawyers and 200 partners - has one of the smaller international footprints of the Big Six. Offices in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane are supplemented by an outpost in Singapore and a presence in Jakarta, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh through alliances with local firms. In 2009 Freehills entered another alliance with Chinese firm TransAsia Lawyers and has associated offices in Shanghai and Beijing.

Freehills may have missed out in the first rush of international mergers, but it’s making up for lost time. At the end of June, the firm announced a full merger with Herbert Smith. Unlike its rivals, who have opted for a more cautious “best friends with benefits” approach, the new Herbert Smith Freehills, which will come into existence on 1 October 2012, will pool profits from the start.


Freehills generated a shedload of goodwill for the way it handled the GFC, particularly the efforts the firm went to in order to retain staff and avoid redundancies. And it’s hasn’t been doing too badly financially either. Whilst revenues fell by 3% to $477m in the 2009/10 financial period, 2010/11 saw the figures shoot up by 7.1% to $511. Plus the firm topped the Thomson Reuters chart for M&A deals in 2011, working on deals to the value of US$63.5bn. Not too shabby in a tricky climate.

But it’s not all been plain sailing for the firm. Freehills lost the whole of its Melbourne-based Superannuation Group to Landers & Rogers in May 2011 and in July, lost star partner Tony Sparks to A&O. According to one senior lawyer this has left something of a gap at the more experienced end of things: “SAs have run for their lives leaving the juniors to man the ship.”

Pay and Conditions

The firm wins points for the “consistently excellent (i.e. interesting and big dollar) work (for M&A group, anyway)” and it’s got some pretty big clients on its books, including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Qantas. But the general consensus seems to be that the “pretty punishing hours” could be better compensated. One lawyer suggests “now that things seem to be getting better, they need to share the love (the $$) a bit more.”

But whilst the pay-to-hours ratio may not be perfect, lawyers do rate the amount of support and the “generally inclusive culture” at the firm. And career prospects also look positive. The firm has recently announced its largest round of partner promotions for several years with ten associates making the letterhead (including one in Indonesia), an impressive 50% of whom were women.


Overall Freehills garners praise for being a friendly, supportive and inclusive place to work with pretty top drawer clients. Although if you’re in Sydney be warned “the toilets and general plumbing is crap”, but a brand new office is on the way and hopefully including some shiny new loos.

It will be very interesting to see how the Herbert Smith merger pans out. The new 2,800 lawyer firm may take a while to bed in so it will very much be a case of watch this space.


Salary (Graduate): $70,000
Salary (NQ): $72,000
Salary (1PQE): $75,000
Salary (2PQE): $85,000
Salary (3PQE): $98,500
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme:
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: %
- 1PQE: %
- 2PQE: %
- 3PQE: %
- 4PQE: %
- 5PQE: %
- Partner: %


Grant for GDL:
Grant for LPC:
Training places per year:
% of trainees retained: %

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 55%
Development: 62%
Work/Life: 70%
Openness: 66%
Biscuits: 76%
Toilets: 57%
Social: 76%
Firm of the year overall score: 74%


Holiday allowance: Unknown
Flexi holiday:
Pension: Unknown
Maternity policy: Unknown
Target hours: Unknown
Childcare vouchers:
Gym: Unknown
Restaurant: Unknown
24 hour photocopying support:
24 hour secretarial support:
Other: Unknown


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