Best Law Firms Survey Expanded: Significant Matters in Australia

Best Lawyers delves further into Best Law Firms – Australia survey data, highlighting top litigation and news in dispute resolution, employment law and more.

High court of Australia signage
Image by iStock/Georgia Curry


Amanda Smith

June 26, 2024 09:00 AM

The Australian legal market and the following landscape are in a constant state of flux, influenced by newly enacted laws, societal shifts and significant legal developments. Our Best Law Firms survey gathered insights from top firms about critical cases, verdicts and transactions shaping the nation's legal practices. In the following sections, we will delve into these critical issues, examining their details, impacts and broader contexts. Join us as we explore the changes and influential figures shaping the future of Australia's best law firms.

Dispute Resolution

Two significant dispute resolution cases between international carmakers and Australian customers highlight how such scenarios can impact the automotive industry. Mitsubishi Motors and Mercedes-Benz are at the center of this story.

From vehicles to vaccines, a $53 million class action case against veterinary vaccine developer, Zoetis Australia, had an interesting beginning – with a notice from a journalist and no prior communication with Zoetis and, what was later discovered, without an expert veterinary vaccine or epidemiological assistance.

Australian Consumer Law (Section 18) outlines protection against misleading or deceiving the public regarding goods or services. A significant dispute regarding the mandatory fuel consumption label on the Triton vehicle between Mitsubishi Motors and a motorist reached the High Court of Australia.

The motorist claimed the Triton's fuel consumption exceeded the values listed on the label, with Mitsubishi responding that the specifics of the label were stipulated by law.

Thomson Geer, Mitsubishi's legal counsel, said the unanimous decision to rule in favor of the carmaker set a legal precedent, affecting the entire motor vehicle industry in Australia and all market participants subject to mandatory labeling laws.

Adrian Tembel, Chief Executive Partner at Thomson Geer, said this case arose from the firm's long-term relationships with Japanese clients.

"This has led to the creation of the firm's 'Japan desk' to nurture and grow these connections. Over many years, several of our Partners have established and maintained relationships with large Japanese clients," Thomson Geer's Chief Executive Partner, Adrian Tembel, said.

Another significant dispute resolution regarding a major carmaker witnessed Mercedes-Benz's new Agent Model coming into question.

The changes made by Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific to its automotive franchise arrangements and dealer network structures resulted in a $650 million dispute led by 38 Australian car dealers. They claimed Mercedes-Benz was bypassing dealers and selling directly to customers. The case has since garnered international interest.

Maddocks CEO David Newman reported that Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific won the landmark agency model case in late 2023.

"The decision in the Mercedes-Benz case is significant as it clarifies several previously unresolved significant areas of law concerning the application of good faith when exercising contractual power and the termination of existing contractual arrangements," Newman said.

Piper Alderman represented Zoetis Australia in a landmark dispute. The case was between horse owners and veterinary vaccine developer Zoetis Australia. In a $53 million class action case, horse owners alleged the vaccine caused side effects in horses.

"In terms of human and animal health, it related to the only vaccine available to reduce the risk of the transmission of Hendra virus, a zoonotic virus that has killed hundreds of horses and four humans. The award-winning vaccine is vital and was therefore very significant in defending its quality and safety," said Anne Freeman, Dispute Resolution & Litigation Partner.

The firm reported that the class action commenced without warning Zoetis, having received notice from a journalist. It became apparent that the lead applicant had commenced the claim without the benefit of expert veterinary, vaccine or epidemiological assistance while alleging the vaccine caused side effects in horses.

The lead applicant also sought to support her case by relying on evidence from 50 other horse owners. That meant a significant amount of extra factual investigation, including with experts and preparation of cross-examination of over 30 witnesses. This additional evidence was later withdrawn.

The firm had previously defended class action suits but never a significant consumer one. The judge concluded that the vaccine did not cause the alleged side effects and was of acceptable quality under the Australian Consumer Law.

Employment Law

A significant cross-border employment law case fought to answer the question: should former employees of a food delivery platform be able to use confidential business information to help a competitor? The case attracted major media attention and is a stellar example of an urgent transaction involving multiple parties with multi-lingual requirements, cross-jurisdiction and collaboration with another firm to share information.

Another case that garnered intense media coverage concerned alleged incidents occurring at the Australian mining group Fortescue. The representing firm helped Fortescue manage reputational risks without compromising its defense of the criminal charges.

Employment law is a multi-faceted part of the legal apparatus, with employee and employer protection cases. It impacts the business landscape in Australia, which is why employment cases are of particular significance.

Specialist workplace law firm Kingston Reid cited multiple significant employment law cases. Kingston Reid assisted international food delivery platform Hungry Panda in obtaining urgent interim injunctions to prevent Easi employees from sharing confidential information with competitors after an acquisition.

It became clear that Easi had illegally sold data to a new direct competitor, Fantuan. The case involved cross-border jurisdictions, with Kingston Reid acting with the firm White and Case to represent Hungry Panda in various applications against Fantuan. Kingston Reid sought injunctive relief in the Federal Court of Australia against multiple respondents. While the case remains active, financial damage was limited by ordering individuals involved to return confidential information.

In a different type of employment law case, Kingston Reid developed Work Health and Safety training for the mining group Fortescue – in the lead-up to the work safety legislation introduced in Western Australia. With penalties for safety breaches up 300% and a changing conversation about what is considered a 'safety matter,' the need for bespoke training in high-risk industries has increased prominence.

Kingston Reid's customized training program has been rolled out across the company, from employees to the board.

From metal to mining, commercial firm Mills Oakley acted for Rio Tinto Limited subsidiary in a significant case for Australian labor law. The case related to its 'Fair Treatment System Policy' and whether the 'safety net contractual entitlement' was considered a policy document, which was ruled as not. It's one of the first cases in Australia, offering clarity to Australian employers and the position regarding the law for future similar scenarios.

Merger & Acquisition

Australia’s most prominent corporate acquisitions and one of the world’s largest metals and mining deals took place with unique challenges and conditions. Selling a homegrown brand to a foreign conglomerate requires distinct legal advisory regarding regulatory risks, corporate governance structure and shareholder support.

Any merger, whether small business or large multinational, is a matter of significant change that must be well-managed to mitigate risk. Blackmores, Newcrest Mining, Clemenger Group and Life Care sales are detailed in this story.

The Blackmores' corporate acquisition was one of the largest in Australia in 2023. Thomson Geer advised the $1.8 billion merger with Japanese food company Kirin Holdings. The transaction attracted significant media attention as a household name and Australian-grown brand.

Adrian Tembel, Chief Executive Partner of Thomson Geer, said a cross-border transaction of this size involves many distinct aspects that must be managed to ensure a successful outcome.

"Among the elements that were particular to this deal were negotiating the transaction terms and major shareholder support; advising on due diligence and ensuring Kirin understood regulatory risks in the Australian context and multiple foreign jurisdictions in which Blackmores operates and helping Kirin to understand the Australian corporate governance structure for the acquisition and ensuring it aligned with Kirin's," Tembel said.

American media giant Omnicom increased its holding in one of Australia's oldest advertising businesses, Clemenger Group. Unlike the usual scheme of arrangement between a bidder and a target, Clemenger's scheme relates to their unique employee share scheme introduced in 1973 – which allowed the shareholders to realize value for some of their Clemenger shares whilst requiring both the bidder and target's shareholders to continue to work together in the future.

According to Corporate & Commercial Partner William Khong from advising firm Holding Redlich, a successful scheme of arrangement requires a multidisciplinary exercise involving corporate and litigation lawyers.

"The court proceedings to seek the Court's approval to the scheme of the arrangement were significantly streamlined recently. This is important as it removes both unnecessary administrative barriers and unnecessary costs to the parties when seeking the Court's approval," Khong noted.

From communications to aged care, Holding Redlich acted for Life Care, a not-for-profit, in the sale to the national brand Opal Healthcare. Corporate & Commercial Partner William Kontaxis said this was significant because residential aged care is a highly regulated industry, and various national and state-based matters had to be considered.

"Aged care is a growing sector, and since this transaction, we have already seen more activity in this space," Kontaxis reported.

Amanda Smith is an accomplished journalist and writer. She reports on culture, human interest, business and technology. Smith has covered the metaverse lawyer, the cryptocurrency regulatory conversation, social commentary during the pandemic and presidential election and LGBTQ+ rights. She’s a regular columnist for NerdWallet Australia. Her work has been published in respected titles such as The Guardian, Business Insider, News Corp, National Geographic, MIT Technology Review and NerdWallet. Amanda is an Australian, living in the cultural center that is New York City.

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