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Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Boasting over 950 lawyers and 124 partners, Corrs Chambers Westgarth has blossomed into one of the largest Australian firms but, despite its keenest desires, it still sits outside the Big Six. Since its founding in 1841 in Melbourne, it's added offices in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. The latter is now the firm's flagship office, and home to 50 partners. Corrs has three main divisions; corporate and finance, property and development, and litigation and workplace relations.
Until recently Corrs had been successfully pursuing an aggressive expansion plan. In 2011, when CEO John Denton said he wanted the firm’s partnership to increase by at least a third by 2015, it was the fastest-growing of the mid-tier firms. But the growth spurt came crashing to a halt in 2012. During the last year and a half the firm's managed to add just one partner. For every hire, another seems to slope off (in May two crack finance partners jumped ship for Ashurst). That leaves a question mark hanging over the firm’s much-touted expansion ambitions. If Corrs can’t hit its projections, the decision in 2011 to splash out on a plush new office in a yet-to-be-built Melbourne development could raise eyebrows.
Like many an Aussie firm, Corrs is very keen on getting traction in the Asian market. But rather than open offices abroad or merge with firms boasting an Asian presence, Corrs claims it can do without. Denton is vocal on the power of influence (he currently chairs the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group), and says that the firm can thrive in Asia on the back of a "
virtual network built on relationships and capability
". In plain speaking, that's partnering with foreign firms. There’s certainly evidence Corrs is at least maintaining a client base in Asia – its recent clients include two heavyweight Chinese mining outfits.
Pay and Conditions
Corrs appears to be among the best-paying of the Aussie firms, if not the best, when it comes to non-partners. That’s backed up by the results of RollOnFriday's Firm of the Year 2012 survey, with agreement that both “
pay and quality of work are excellent
”. Gripes include poor communications and many lawyers commented on the firm's stinginess ("
Corrs runs on the smell of an oil rag, with a view to maximising partner profits at all costs
"). And there are moans about pay and poor development prospects for junior lawyers, with reports that “
whenever need for Senior Associates arise, they are hired from outside
”. On the upside, Corrs' management was praised for its openness, and “
great juniors and senior associates that are absolutely dedicated to the firm.
The firm also appears to have a real commitment to gender diversity. Partner Christine Covington recently won at the inaugural Lawyers Weekly Women in Law awards for her work as chair of the firm’s Diversity Council, through which Corrs has said it will aim to increase its percentage of female partners from the current 22% to at least 35% by 2015. It may not just be lip service either; 57% of its new partner promotions over the last two years were women. In 2011 the firm also increased employees' parental leave entitlement from 14 weeks to 18 weeks.
As one might expect from a firm of its size, Corrs offers good pro bono opportunities. It's the principal legal partner for the United Nations Refugee Agency in Australia and works with a range of other worthy bodies, including the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Australian Children’s Trust.
Corrs' expansion plan seems to have slowed, which may be a sign that tougher times are ahead. But the firm has steered an ambitious course with a great deal of success so far, and perhaps it should be given the benefit of the doubt. Even if it’s not quite the top tier firm it wants to be, Corrs remains a solid bet.
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RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores
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Explanation and source of figures
Redundancies at Corrs Chambers Westgarth
The latest firm to be axing staff
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