BOSS LOOKS BACK ON A QUARTER CENTURY
6 October 2015, Written by Paris Faint
HERBERT Smith Freehills' Brisbane branch has been building a legacy for the last 25 years.
From the days where a Christmas party could be held around a small dining room table to a current working family of 220, managing partner Michael Back (pictured) has watched the firm's story unfold from day one.
Having been a partner with the firm for more than 33 years, Back travelled from Sydney's Freehill, Hollingdale & Page to begin a Brisbane chapter of the legal force which currently spans 24 offices worldwide.
Looking back on the experience, Back explains the initial transition wasn't without its complications, mostly due to the highly exclusive nature of Queensland's legal market in the 90s and an insular disposition towards 'southerners.'
"Queensland at that time was much more parochial than it is now, with many barriers to prevent 'southern firms' entering the Queensland legal market," says Back.
"For example, we couldn't call ourselves Freehill, Hollingdale & Page because under the then regulations, named partners in the firm's brand had to reside in Queensland."
The added pressure of finding new business in defiance of a crippling recession also helped build the branch's character, with many of the clients secured decades ago still coming back as happy customers to this day.
"Tapping into a new market was exceptionally challenging and not long after we started we faced the added hurdle of the 1992 recession," says Back.
"This made it even more important for us to quickly identify our key clients and recruit the very best partners, lawyers and support staff.
"After a rocky start, the office expanded and gained momentum and the client base grew to include Lend Lease the Queensland State Government and QIC.
"We still have many clients like Lend Lease that have been with us from the beginning, something I am particularly proud of."
Once the ball started rolling in Brisbane, it couldn't be stopped.
During the initial resources boom at the turn of the century, the firm secured contracts with major clients including BHP Billiton, Santos and Wesfarmers.
"While this sector is not as flat out as in the boom days, there's still plenty of work for us in the resources and energy sectors, driven by consolidation and M&A activity," says Back.
The office has now become one of the most integral parts of the company's business in the Asia Pacific region, building strong connections between Australia and offshore investors particularly in the real estate sector.
A quarter of a century well-spent.
Author: Paris Faint