HSF establishes Australian arbitration hub

The Melbourne-headquartered hub marks the firm’s second dedicated sector-specific practice in the Asia Pacific region.

Last week, London-headquartered law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), announced the launch of an Australian arbitration hub to support its Asia Pacific-wide practice.

The strategy is led by Melbourne-based partners, Chad Catterwell and James Allsop, who both bring extensive Asia-based arbitration experience to the initiative.

“The hub represents an opportunity for our people to increase their exposure on cross-jurisdictional arbitration, and to formalise the practice for solicitors in Australia who specialise in arbitration,” Catterwell told FinanceAsia.

He explained that in addition to the two partners, three associates are permanently allocated to the hub and the team is able to access “much larger numbers of resources from the broader Australian Disputes practice as client needs demand.” The hub will draw upon arbitration expertise across its nine bases in the Asia Pacific region.

Between them, the two partners have over thirty years of experience working with HSF clients. Allsop recently relocated to Melbourne following eight years of service at the law firm’s Tokyo office, on secondment from London. Meanwhile, Catterwell was seconded to the company’s Hong Kong base from mid-2013 to early 2016, and has since continued to work closely with colleagues in Hong Kong and Singapore while setting the foundations for the development of the Australian hub.

Asian ambitions

The creation of the hub forms part of the law firm’s global Ambition 2025 strategy, which targets corporate expansion in markets across Asia, among other regions.

“Investing in the region will see us focus on priority areas for businesses, including environment, social and governance (ESG), the energy transition and private capital,” Catterwell noted.

“Clients in Asia have always worked in very complex, multi-country environments - with multiple new disruptors affecting their businesses - we're well placed to address the disputes and transactional needs that disruption can cause,” he said.

Discussing the trends that currently pervade Asia-based arbitration, Catterwell highlighted climate change transition, energy inflation, as well as regulatory and geopolitical turbulence.

“The private equity (PE) scene in Asia thrived throughout the pandemic. We expect to see high deal volumes, increasing industry competition and strong returns driven by PE firms creating value, delivering top-line growth, and reducing cost bases to increase margins,” he told FA.

Sydney-based corporate M&A partner, Malika Chandrasegaran, echoed Catterwell’s comments around digitisation and ESG considerations being front of mind for corporates engaged in cross-border activity. Additionally, she pointed to increased cost of capital and supply chain disruption.

“Rising interest rates and the cost of capital, together with geopolitical factors, has resulted in some market uncertainty impacting cross-border corporate activity. That said, the resulting lower valuations are also providing opportunities for private capital with ‘dry powder’ and companies with strong balance sheets to make strategic acquisitions,” she explained.

In terms of supply chains, she said, “Companies are seeking to improve supply chain resilience in response to geopolitical risk. The Asia Pacific region has been a beneficiary of well-integrated global supply chains and the region has an opportunity to capitalise on evolving customer demands with renewed investment.”

Dedicated practice

The Australian arbitration hub is the second endeavour of its kind by HSF in the Asian region. In April 2022, the firm established a sector-specific Construction and Infrastructure hub, in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia-based partner who leads the initiative, Craig C Shepherd, explained that since its launch, the team has worked on “significant disputes” related to projects in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. 

“Having a hub has allowed for matters to be resourced in a coordinated and effective way giving clients access to specialist expertise at the right level and thereby maximising efficiency,” he told FA.

The HSF announcement noted that the establishment of an Australian arbitration hub will complement the existing international arbitration practice in Australia, which comprises partners Elizabeth Macknay in Perth, Elizabeth Poulos in Brisbane, and Leon Chung in Sydney.

Some recent efforts by Allsop and Catterwell to deliver notable outcomes for clients include; representing a global pharmaceutical company in ICC proceedings concerning the termination of a co-promotion agreement with over US$ 1 billion in dispute; handling disputes related to shipbuilding contracts on behalf of a Japanese trading house; and securing favourable award following the advancement of allegations of fraud over a multi-billion dollar M&A transaction involving oil and gas assets in the North Sea.

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