Kalis noted two Australian firms with about 800 attorneys each, which he said didn't make as much sense for K&L Gates as did a 300-lawyer firm in the region. Then there are one or two other firms the size of Middletons that have made it abundantly clear they want to remain independent, Kalis said, though adding the perspective of those firms could change over time.
Kalis said his counterpart at Middletons, managing partner Nick Nichola, has described the Australian market as one that is being "hollowed out," with large firms remaining on one end and boutique firms on the other.
Kalis said it would be difficult to open in Australia with just a few lawyers because there would be little brand recognition. But some U.S. firms have taken that approach.
Five decades ago, Baker & McKenzie launched a Melbourne office. Now, the firm has more than 50 lawyers there and more than 150 in Sydney.
Jones Day opened in Sydney in 1998 and the lawyers there practice Australian law across a full spectrum of practice areas, including cross-border transactions, litigation and employment law. Jones Day has 25 attorneys in the office.
In 2001, Sullivan & Cromwell opened in Sydney, where the firm has a specific emphasis on representing Sydney-based corporations and investment banking clients. The firm opened a Melbourne office in 1983, from which it serves clients with legal needs in both Australia and New Zealand. The firm has three lawyers based in Sydney and four in Melbourne, with a handful of other attorneys from some of the firm's other offices handling matters in the region.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom opened a Sydney office in 1989 and has focused mainly on representing Australian and New Zealand clients on the U.S. aspects of cross-border transactions. Skadden has six attorneys in its Sydney office.
Reed Smith global managing partner Gregory B. Jordan said in October that his firm would have to start looking at entering markets like Brazil and Australia. He also said at that time that the firm wouldn't be doing the very large-scale mergers it had done in the past, but rather would grow in smaller steps.
"At this point, we wouldn't expect to want to have several hundred lawyers in Australia, so doing a big merger is less important for us," Jordan said on Wednesday in an emailed statement. "We will continue to assess our clients' needs in Australia. If that leads us to want to have a presence, then we will find the right team to help us make that happen."
Jordan said Australia is a market of "potential interest" for Reed Smith, but Singapore, where the firm just opened, and Houston, have more of Reed Smith's immediate attention.