Merging Business and Responsibility: Gilbert + Tobin

Attorneys Costas Condoleon and Sam Nickless from the Australian firm Gilbert + Tobin discuss the firm's 2020 award, how Australia’s Corporate Law practice is preparing for the world’s transforming economic landscape, and the international community’s demands of its businesses.

Gilbert + Tobin 2020 LFOTY Interview
Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers

August 9, 2019 11:36 AM

For Costas Condoleon and Sam Nickless of Gilbert + Tobin—Australia’s 2020 “Law Firm of the Year” winner in Corporate Law—the past year has been just as much about giving back as it has been about success. The expertise of attorneys like Condoleon and his partners in Corporate Advisory has solidified the firm’s standing as a leader in M&A strategizing, adapting business plans in disruptive industries, and implementing good corporate governance practices with their clients. In a conversation with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer, the two outline growing trends in the industry and meditate on the future of corporate law.

You've made gender diversity a priority and have also set up programs to support your LGBTQI associates, how has this paid off for the firm?

Sam Nickless: It pays off just because it's right and it feels good to be heading in the right direction. We know there's a lot of work still to be done, but again, doing the right thing has its own reward. But also, it has helped us to attract and retain quality talent, helped people feel comfortable being themselves at work, and aids in their overall performance because they can feel that they belong.

But we recognize there's a long way to go. Among the leading law firms in the country, our percentage of female partners is the highest, and we're proud of that, but we also realize that's just not good enough, to be at around 35 percent. We really believe that long term that should be at parity, but we also recognize that's a journey that's going to take some effort. So it has paid off, but it's something that we need to continue to invest in.

Can you tell me more about the Center of Public Law Project? What is the primary goal and how did your firm initially get involved with the University of New South Wales?

For us, that's largely an example of giving back into the community. The Center for Public Law's been a long-standing, community commitment we've made. Our founder Danny Gilbert has been very passionate about public law issues, and here in Australia, he's been quite outspoken publicly on helping to achieve constitutional recognition for our First Nations people.

He‘s had a relationship with the University of New South Wales for some time. So we helped to endow that center and fund the expertise in there. It's actually quite different from our normal day to day work, but it is more about giving back and helping develop expertise, discussion, and debate on aspects of public law and how that influences the rule of law in our country and internationally.

Can you describe any important trends you've witnessed in the corporate law sector in the past year? Any changes that have happened or new trends bubbling up? How do you see this practice evolving in the coming years?

Costas Condoleon: Last year transaction activity in the M&A sector was at a seven-year high in Australia, in terms of major public M&A activity. They’re usually a good indicator of what is more prevalent across the market. Frankly, 2019 is continuing where 2018 left off, and we expect that that will continue to be strong so long as the Australian economy remains strong.

Private equity was a very strong contributor, including in relation to public M&A deals. There are quite a large number of public market deals being done where private equity is the acquirer. That's obviously reflective of the amount of capital that private equity firms have to deploy, and the fact that finding private targets in Australia that meet their investment requirements can be challenging.

You’re probably aware that we have an enormous superannuation fund industry here. The Australian government mandates that a certain percentage of all Australian employees’ salaries are paid into what's called superannuation, which is effectively a compulsory pension fund. It's gotten to a scale now where the aggregate amount of money that is sitting in these super funds is greater than the aggregate market cap of all Australian listed companies. And they expect that over the next ten years it will be about three times that.

We're starting to see the superannuation funds participate in some of these public M&A transactions as well, which is quite an interesting development. Obviously these super funds are also heading off shore because the amount of capital that they have to deploy can't be satisfied with the opportunities in the Australian market. So in some respects, the funds are probably heading down the path that the Canadian pension funds have been heading down over the previous 10, 15 years. And that's quite an important development.

The other thing to mention is that last year there was a royal commission into misconduct in the financial services sector. That was a very significant development in Australia because our major banks were subject to public scrutiny through this royal commission, but more relevantly for present purposes, there were criticisms leveled against a couple of our regulators for not taking stronger action against the misconduct sooner.

As a reaction to that, we are seeing the Australian regulators become much more assertive. The Chairman of ASIC, our corporate regulator in Australia that is a bit like the SEC in the US, has already signaled a more aggressive approach–basically a “why not litigate” enforcement stance. So we are now seeing in practice, and we will continue to see, the regulators take a much more aggressive and perhaps even interventionist attitude towards transactions in Australia. Perhaps we are on a journey towards the regulatory model in America.

How are these changes shifting the focus and strategies over the course of the next couple of years internally?

One thing that you need to be aware of is the pools of capital. As you know, they fuel a lot of the transactional corporate activity. Those sources of capital comprise listed companies, private equity funds, and the super funds, amongst others. But as new pools of capital with new target investment strategies emerge, we are making sure that they are areas that we are focused on and developing our relationships with.

We're certainly seeing sectors such as Fintech grow in significance. That's a global phenomenon. G+T sees itself as at the vanguard of innovation in this legal market. We always look for industries and disruptors in the market who are having an impact and making sure that we are keeping abreast of developments and best able to support them.

So, as we've been seeing the Fintech sector become a more important part of the economy, we’ve made sure we've got a number of specialists who focus on that sector. We also think that increasingly, directors and boards are looking for well-rounded and informed corporate lawyers who understand the full macro context in which companies and directors operate, and are alive to global trends and debates that regulators, governments, and the community are having as these areas develop.

I think one of the things that the royal commission highlighted here, and that is part of the global debate that I mentioned earlier, is that the expectations of directors are growing in terms of what the community expects of them. And those expectations are manifesting themselves through increasing activism at a shareholder level. You've now got particular groups who have vested interests in particular policies (such as ESG) and who increasingly are seeking to hold directors and boards to account and to certain a standard those activists seek to set in pursuit of those policy priorities.

Overall, we need to be excellent at the law and be able to interpret it and understand what the boundaries of it are, but a large part of what we do is exercise judgment, and that gets informed by these other matters as well.

Related Articles

From Russia, With Law

by Best Lawyers

The bite of U.S. sanctions aside, Cleary Gottlieb partner Yulia Solomakhina sees great promise for commerce and the law as Russia increasingly embraces markets and technology.

An Interview With Cleary Gottlieb

How Technological Advances Can Help Corporate Law

by Best Lawyers

Dieter Gericke and Benjamin Leisinger discuss how being aware of technological advances helps them provide corporate financial advice.

An Interview With Homburger

How Corporate Law in France Is Navigating the Trade Wars

by Best Lawyers

Bertrand Cardi and Cyril Bonan discuss M&A, protectionism, and the trade wars' impact in France.

An Interview With Darrois Villey Maillot Broc

Protecting High-level Executives With the Apex Doctrine

by Sara Collin

The Apex Doctrine, developed to shield high-level executives from inappropriate depositions, is a beneficial asset to lawyers and clients, at least in the states where it’s been adopted.

Apex Doctrine Protects Executives

Trending Top Five: Critical Corporate Components for 2022

by Justin Smulison

It’s no longer “business as usual” for most of Corporate America. With a growing list of challenges facing the legal and financial health of many companies, we talked to several major General Counsel about the biggest areas in which businesses should remain vigilant.

Corporate Advice From General Counsel

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers: The Corporate Law and Commercial Litigation Issue

by Best Lawyers

The first edition of Best Lawyers: The Corporate Law and Commercial Litigation Issues features thought leadership articles from attorneys around the nation, as well as listings in more than 70 practice areas.

Corporate and Commercial Issue

Follow the Money

by Rachel F. Sifuentes

Women are the future of fintech—but in the here and now, they’re still being underserved in an industry otherwise marked by explosive growth. Here’s why that must change.

Women and the Future of Fintech

Announcing the 7th Annual Women in the Law Publication

by Best Lawyers

The 7th Annual Women in the Law publication is a celebration of all the female legal talent across the country, honoring every woman listed in The Best Lawyers in America and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America.

Honoring Female Lawyers in the United States

Will Recent Boeing Settlements Create Tailwinds In Corporate Law?

by Justin Smulison

Prominent litigation against Boeing is setting a precedent of accountability, professionalism and commitment among company boards as well as ushering ESG further into the courtroom to help monitor and prevent safety issues.

Recent Boeing Settlements and Corporate Law

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

Working With Changes

by Best Lawyers

Carolyn Pugsley, the Joint Global Head of Practice for Corporate, Australia at Herbert Smith and Freehills, discusses policy changes affecting the M&A market in Australia as well as the impact of the pandemic on the practice.

An Interview With Herbert Smith and Freehills

Guidelines for Acquisitions of Infrastructure Assets

by Posse Herrera Ruiz

A Colombian firm gives merger and acquisition insights to assess risks in the purchase of potentially tainted assets.

Acquisitions of Infrastructure Assets

Property Protectors

by Best Lawyers

Georg Schönherr and Thomas Adocker discuss the theft of trade secrets, patent infringement, and strategies to combat fake goods.

An Interview With Schwarz Schönherr Rechtsanw

A Studied Neutrality

by Best Lawyers

Marcel Meinhardt discusses a new interpretation in competition law, new challenges as technology advances more and more, and other topics.

An Interview With Lenz & Staehelin

Insuring the Future

by Best Lawyers

Thomas Heitzer discusses how new technology advancements are impacting the insurance realm.

An Interview With Noerr

How This Firm Is Shaping the Economic Future of Ukraine

by Best Lawyers

Denis Lysenko discusses how AEQUO has helped build a new business environment.

An Interview With AEQUO

Trending Articles

The Best Lawyers in New Zealand™ 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in New Zealand 2024 awards include an elite field of top lawyers and law firms.

Auckland, New Zealand Skyline at twilight

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Presenting The Best Lawyers in Singapore™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers offers the most prestigious awards for lawyers and law firms in Singapore for 2024.

Singapore skyline at night

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2024 Launch

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce The Best Lawyers in Australia™ for 2023, including the top lawyers and law firms from Australia.

Australian Parliament beside water at sunset

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Japan™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

We are proud to present the 2024 edition of Best Lawyers awards for Japan which include the top lawyers and law firms in the country.

Mt. Fuji in the background with fall leaves and structure in front


Paulson & Nace, PLLC: A Pioneer in Personal Injury Law

by Best Lawyers

Since its inception more than 40 years ago, Paulson & Nace, PLLC, a Washington D.C., Maryland and West Virginia-based personal injury firm, has always led with compassion first. Here are some key insights from the firm on how to go about filing a personal injury claim.

Group of lawyers meet around a conference table

Could Reign Supreme End with the Queen?

by Sara Collin

Canada is revisiting the notion of abolishing the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, but many Canadians and lawmakers are questioning if Canada could, should and would follow through.

Teacup on saucer over image of Queen's eye

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect

by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some

by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers

by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen