Kiwi firm meets major merger milestone

by Sophie Schroder20 Oct 2014
Minter Ellison Rudd Watts has achieved many firsts over the past 30 years, beginning with being part of the merger that created the first major law firm to operate in both Auckland and Wellington.
This week, the NZ giant is celebrating the anniversary of that day three decades ago, which saw Rudd Garland & Horrocks, Watts Patterson and Stone & Co sign an agreement which would change the dynamics of Kiwi law firms of the future.
Minter Ellison Rudd Watts chair Cathy Quinn told NZ Lawyer that the newly merged firm in 1984, which was called Rudd Watts & Stone, was the birth of the firm as it is today.
“In many ways the merger marked a new era for law firms – one of national firms,” she says.
That same year, Rudd Watts & Stone formed a relationship with leading Asia Pacific law firm, Minter Ellison, which saw it become one of the first Kiwi firms to take advantage of the growing economic relationship between New Zealand and Australia, and gave it the opportunity to grow its international profile.
And then in 2001, Minter Ellison was included in the firm’s name.
Quinn says the merger and subsequent alliance with Minter Ellison have lent the firm significant opportunities in terms of the delivery of legal services.
“When we first joined forces with Minter Ellison it was a bold step. But our forefathers had the foresight to see the economic benefit that closer ties across the Tasman would bring, and sure enough over the last three decades the two firms have helped numerous great businesses expand into different markets through ‘on the ground’ expertise, efficient communication and the sharing of best practices,” she says.
“There have been some great examples of trans-Tasman work in recent years, such as the work we both did on the Z Energy IPO in Australia and New Zealand, the recent Dick Smith IPO in Australia which was worked on by both the New Zealand and Australian offices as well as the Asaleo IPO.”

But for Quinn, one of Minter Ellison Rudd Watts’ most important achievements has been in not losing sight of the firm’s fundamental culture, one that celebrates and encourages difference; during its huge growth.
And the firm’s success has seen it win many accolades over the years, including winning the large law firm award at the New Zealand Law Awards two years in a row.
It’s a finalist again this year in the awards, which are being held on November 6 at Pullman Hotel.
“The New Zealand Law Awards have been a chance for the firm to measure itself against others in the industry. We seek to be a client centric firm, and these awards allow clients to vote for the firms that they like working with,” says Quinn.
“The legal industry needs awards like these, and we know that they mean something special to the in-house lawyers out there as well. It’s a chance for them to stay connected to the rest of the legal community and we can come together as a group and celebrate each other’s success.”
But with all the success Minter Ellison Rudd Watts has enjoyed as a result of its unique national merger 30 years ago, bigger international mergers remain to uncommon in the New Zealand legal market, which is in great contrast to our Australian cousins.
Quinn says this is because the market here is one of the most competitive in the world.
“For the big players the revenue and profits available from NZ are just not worth their entering this tough and competitive market. I think they see us as too small to bother with,” she says.

And she doesn’t think this will change anytime soon, either – unless egos “get in the way of good business”.
Minter Ellison Rudd Watts will be celebrating 30 years since the merger which started it all during a large event in both The Cloud in Auckland and in the firm’s refurbished offices in Wellington.
Clients, alumni and staff will be in attendance, and the chairman and CEO of Minter Ellison will be popping over to join the celebrations too.
This will be followed by a month of internal activities and communications for staff, says Quinn.
“It’s just a great chance to really look back at our rich 130 years of history, a monumental past 30 years, and also look to the future and see what the next 10, 20, 30  or even 50 years is going to bring…

“It is hard to imagine just how law firms and business will operate or be structured in another 30 years. We do know it will be very different.  Technology and our environment – politically, culturally, regionally and globally – will provide challenges and opportunities to do things differently.  This firm will continue to thrive given its culture - which, despite changes in people – continues to be centred on doing what’s best for our clients and our people.”