Developments in the Australian legal market over the last year

Chambers Asia-Pacific Research Manager Hussain Ajina, wrote an article published in The Australian Business Review, the business section of one of Australia’s leading newspapers. The article covers developments in the Australian legal landscape over the last year. Read the article below.

Published on 16 February 2023
Written by Hussain Ajina
Hussain Ajina

Insights into the legal market in Australia

The last twelve months have been awash with activity when it comes to the legal scene in Australia, and this has been exemplified in the launch of Chambers Asia-Pacific 2023.

The 2023 guide sees the number of rankings for individual barrister go up by 47, to a grand total of 1,529, whereas the rankings for law firms and barristers’ sets goes up to 632, an increase of 15. This includes a number of firms who have been ranked in Chambers for the first time, such as the Banton Group for Dispute Resolution: Class Action (Plaintiff) and Meridian Lawyers for Insurance Defence, and the list of newly ranked individuals includes 12 younger lawyers who were ranked as ‘up and coming’ lawyers or ‘associates to watch’

The growth of ESG across the Australian legal market

Amidst the continue outpouring of activity in the legal market over the last year, the one phrase that has been on most people’s lips has been ESG. Interviewees, including both lawyers and the consumers of legal services, have been quick to highlight how much the prevalence of ESG issues has risen of late.

Various sources report “a surge in ESG funding” and a “huge source of deal flow in sustainable financing,” with one commentator simply stating: “ESG has exploded.” Most particularly, the area of climate change has been a key area of interest over the last year, with practitioners across numerous practice areas commenting on its increased importance, one source noting: “These days it’s more critical to be looking towards climate change,” whilst an interviewee in the government space says: “The focus is on climate.”

This focus can be seen in various types of work, with sources reporting “an uptick in climate change litigation” as well as that “on the regulatory side, climate change is significant,” while a number of consumers of legal services are commenting on firms’ abilities to advise on climate-related issues, even when these are not the focus of the matter in question.

Climate change legal rankings

The recent prominence of climate-change issues is reflected in a new Climate Change legal ranking table in Chambers Asia-Pacific 2023, which covers the Asia-Pacific Region as a whole. Though the table is focused on reflecting the entire region, readers will notice a preponderance of Australian names amongst the ranked firms and lawyers in that table, with Sydney-based Martijn Wilder AM being ranked as a band 1 lawyer for this area.

There is no doubt that Australia is regional, and indeed global, leader when it comes to the subject of climate change, and this will only continue as the field becomes of greater and greater significance going forward.

These trends have been particularly highlighted by new climate change legislation passed the Federal Parliament this year, which forms a part of the country’s effort to transition away from carbon.

The inevitable effect that this will have on Australia’s highly developed mining industry, particularly with regards to coal mining, has not gone unnoticed by market participants. One source notes: “In the mining space we’ve seen some big exits – it’s a good time to exit the market at the moment,” and another highlights “the scramble for tenure for energy transition projects,” adding: “There’s been an influx of people looking to invest in renewables.”

A final interviewee concludes: “There are huge opportunities in the development of renewables and the energy market transition.”

Analysing the Australian economy

Looking more broadly, the Australian economy has continued to be strong, having previously fared quite well during the COVID pandemic as compared with many other countries around the world.

A market commentator notes that “it’s been a very hot year for M&A with lots of investments into Australia” and another quips: “The last couple of years have been gangbusters for ECM, with lots of IPOs.” The flow of inbound investment has continued to see billion-dollar transactions taking place, but it cannot be said that Australia has completely escaped the economic pressures that are prevalent across the world at the moment, with one source commenting that “price volatility, particularly with regard to gas prices, has been driving a lot of disputes.”

This comes as ASIC swings away from its mantra of ‘Why not litigate?’ adopted a few years ago, an interviewee noting that the regulator is “no longer so keen on litigation.” The future of the economy is far from certain as, amidst continuing economic pressure around the globe and rising inflation, one practitioner in the insolvency space dryly notes: “I’ll have a lot more engagements next year… I hope.”

As the legal scene moves on, with the ever-increasing prominence of ESG and climate change issues as well as the developing economic situation, Chambers will continue to keep a finger on the pulse of the Australian legal landscape, producing coverage which encapsulates the market as accurately as possible.


Chambers Asia Pacific

Learn more about the Chambers Asia Pacific guide and discover the leading law firms and lawyers across the continent of Asia with our market leading reviews, analysis and rankings.