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As statements of intent go, White & Case’s forthcoming Australian play is undeniably bold.

Partner exits to U.S. firms have been par for the course for years, but rarely has a leading firm brought in so many partners from a single rival as White & Case is doing from Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF).

Late last week, months of rumors drew to a close with the news that 10 partners had resigned from HSF to join White & Case, eight of whom are set to launch the U.S. firm’s Australian practice.

Given the rumored numbers that had been flying around the market, the damage could potentially have been worse. Even so, it would be impossible to argue that HSF will not feel the loss. Led by Melbourne-based Asia/Australian finance head Brendan Quinn, the team comprises seven partners in Melbourne, one in Sydney and one apiece in Hong Kong and Singapore.

White & Case’s play is arguably as much about projects as it is about Australia. Quinn and fellow Melbourne partners Josh Sgro, Andrew Clark, Alan Rosengarten, Joanne Draper and Jared Muller, as well as Joel Rennie in Sydney, are all projects partners. So is Matthew Osborne in Singapore, with regulatory partner Tim Power in Melbourne, and Hong Kong finance partner Fergus Smith rounding out a well-regarded team, whose business is believed to be worth around A$30 million ($22.65 million) a year.

Both Quinn and Clark will hold regional leadership positions at the firm. White & Case’s Asia head Eric Berg confirms the move is part of the firm’s strategy to build its Asia practice in line with its global strengths—M&A, private equity, project finance and international arbitration. The U.S. firm already has an established presence in Greater China, Singapore, Korea and Japan across multiple practices.

“We intend to support this group with all the resources necessary for them to hit the ground running,” Berg said. “We’re confident in our decision to launch in Sydney and Melbourne, and excited to get to work.”

Since Berg moved to Asia last year, the firm has opened in Seoul and made a number of high-profile hires, including Linklaters private equity partners Chris Kelly and Peggy Wang in Hong Kong. The projects piece, then, is just another part of the jigsaw.

“It’s great for White & Case as they have a very strong project finance business in the region,” said one recruiter.

“It is a pretty big coup and pretty disappointing for HSF,” a partner at a rival firm in the Asia-Pacific region added.

Between them, the team members have worked for such clients as the Port of Melbourne Authority, National Grid, Santos, Yancoal Australia and the State of Queensland. Team leader Quinn’s practice focuses on advising sponsors and financers on projects such as the La Higuera power project in Chile and the Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria.

“The team is seen as a market leader,” said Tim Fogarty, Taylor Root recruitment Australia head. “When you have a whole team that leaves, the challenge is going to be preventing the work and key clients following. I’m sure White & Case will have done a lot of due diligence to test the strength of those relationships, to check they will come across.”

However, White & Case looks set to have to wait a while to find out which relationships, if any, do come across. All 10 partners are technically subject to six-month notice periods that, if held to, would push the firm’s Australian launch back into next year. HSF is expected to spend this transition period shoring up client relationships, with partners within the firm arguing the impact on revenue could well be minimal in the longer term as they expect many clients and matters to remain with HSF, given its longstanding position in the market.

Once the team does leave, HSF will still have around 50 infrastructure and energy partners across Asia-Pacific. In Melbourne, it looks set to be left with around seven partners with projects or infrastructure finance practices, and senior associates choosing to stay with HSF will presumably have a clearer path to partnership ahead.

“There will be lots of talented senior candidates who are capable of being made up and now the business case exists for those promotions to be made,” Fogarty said.

Some partners at rival firms suggest White & Case may find it harder than anticipated. “You think you have a successful practice and you think it is all you, but the firm name counts for a lot and there is a lot of loyalty to firms and panels, said one Australia-based project finance partner. “It’s not as easy as you would think.”

Others suggest that the narrow project finance focus of the team, particularly in Australia, could put the new entrant at a disadvantage in the sector, despite its broader offering elsewhere. “A full-service firm is vital for serving infrastructure practices,” one Sydney-based partner said. “White & Case will have eight partners in Australia—I’m not sure how that is full service.”

Others question whether the margins available in Australia will make the practice profitable enough to meet the U.S. firm’s expectations. “No firm in Australia makes anything like the money they make,” says one Australian partner. “There’s something wrong with the equation.”

While it is too early to predict how everything will pan out for either firm, White & Case’s international success to date means the firm has everything to play for—even in a domestic legal market as saturated as Australia.

As statements of intent go, White & Case ‘s forthcoming Australian play is undeniably bold.

Partner exits to U.S. firms have been par for the course for years, but rarely has a leading firm brought in so many partners from a single rival as White & Case is doing from Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF).

Late last week, months of rumors drew to a close with the news that 10 partners had resigned from HSF to join White & Case , eight of whom are set to launch the U.S. firm’s Australian practice.

Given the rumored numbers that had been flying around the market, the damage could potentially have been worse. Even so, it would be impossible to argue that HSF will not feel the loss. Led by Melbourne-based Asia/Australian finance head Brendan Quinn, the team comprises seven partners in Melbourne, one in Sydney and one apiece in Hong Kong and Singapore.

White & Case ‘s play is arguably as much about projects as it is about Australia. Quinn and fellow Melbourne partners Josh Sgro, Andrew Clark, Alan Rosengarten, Joanne Draper and Jared Muller, as well as Joel Rennie in Sydney, are all projects partners. So is Matthew Osborne in Singapore, with regulatory partner Tim Power in Melbourne, and Hong Kong finance partner Fergus Smith rounding out a well-regarded team, whose business is believed to be worth around A$30 million ($22.65 million) a year.

Both Quinn and Clark will hold regional leadership positions at the firm. White & Case ‘s Asia head Eric Berg confirms the move is part of the firm’s strategy to build its Asia practice in line with its global strengths—M&A, private equity, project finance and international arbitration. The U.S. firm already has an established presence in Greater China, Singapore, Korea and Japan across multiple practices.

“We intend to support this group with all the resources necessary for them to hit the ground running,” Berg said. “We’re confident in our decision to launch in Sydney and Melbourne, and excited to get to work.”

Since Berg moved to Asia last year, the firm has opened in Seoul and made a number of high-profile hires, including Linklaters private equity partners Chris Kelly and Peggy Wang in Hong Kong. The projects piece, then, is just another part of the jigsaw.

“It’s great for White & Case as they have a very strong project finance business in the region,” said one recruiter.

“It is a pretty big coup and pretty disappointing for HSF,” a partner at a rival firm in the Asia-Pacific region added.

Between them, the team members have worked for such clients as the Port of Melbourne Authority, National Grid, Santos, Yancoal Australia and the State of Queensland. Team leader Quinn’s practice focuses on advising sponsors and financers on projects such as the La Higuera power project in Chile and the Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria.

“The team is seen as a market leader,” said Tim Fogarty, Taylor Root recruitment Australia head. “When you have a whole team that leaves, the challenge is going to be preventing the work and key clients following. I’m sure White & Case will have done a lot of due diligence to test the strength of those relationships, to check they will come across.”

However, White & Case looks set to have to wait a while to find out which relationships, if any, do come across. All 10 partners are technically subject to six-month notice periods that, if held to, would push the firm’s Australian launch back into next year. HSF is expected to spend this transition period shoring up client relationships, with partners within the firm arguing the impact on revenue could well be minimal in the longer term as they expect many clients and matters to remain with HSF, given its longstanding position in the market.

Once the team does leave, HSF will still have around 50 infrastructure and energy partners across Asia-Pacific. In Melbourne, it looks set to be left with around seven partners with projects or infrastructure finance practices, and senior associates choosing to stay with HSF will presumably have a clearer path to partnership ahead.

“There will be lots of talented senior candidates who are capable of being made up and now the business case exists for those promotions to be made,” Fogarty said.

Some partners at rival firms suggest White & Case may find it harder than anticipated. “You think you have a successful practice and you think it is all you, but the firm name counts for a lot and there is a lot of loyalty to firms and panels, said one Australia-based project finance partner. “It’s not as easy as you would think.”

Others suggest that the narrow project finance focus of the team, particularly in Australia, could put the new entrant at a disadvantage in the sector, despite its broader offering elsewhere. “A full-service firm is vital for serving infrastructure practices,” one Sydney-based partner said. “ White & Case will have eight partners in Australia—I’m not sure how that is full service.”

Others question whether the margins available in Australia will make the practice profitable enough to meet the U.S. firm’s expectations. “No firm in Australia makes anything like the money they make,” says one Australian partner. “There’s something wrong with the equation.”

While it is too early to predict how everything will pan out for either firm, White & Case ‘s international success to date means the firm has everything to play for—even in a domestic legal market as saturated as Australia.