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By Andrew Mitchard, Johnston Withers, Lawyers, Adelaide.

South Australian MSI Global Alliance law firm Johnston Withers has taken over the Adelaide office of embattled ASX-listed multinational Slater and Gordon.

The tie-up will lift the number of Johnston Withers staff to close to 60, with six Slater and Gordon lawyers and support staff retained as part of the combined business, continuing to operate from their current offices on South Tce.

Johnston Withers Managing Director, Andrew Mitchard said the deal followed last year’s acquisition of Murray Bridge conveyancing firm Marshall Conveyancing Group.

“We’ve increased the number of staff at our firm by about 10 people over the past two years. The benefit of bringing in Slaters – being strong in personal injury work – is that it really bolsters a traditional area for Johnston Withers and boosts our footprint with a lot of continuity.”

“A lot of bigger commercial firms are national affiliations and I think with this one it’s going the other way – it’s certainly going against the trend.”

Slater and Gordon opened an Adelaide office in 2004 to pursue local asbestos-related compensation cases, and in 2007 became the world’s first listed law firm. However, its fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2015 with a disastrous $1.3 billion acquisition of Quindell’s professional services arm in the UK.

After being bailed out by a group of hedge funds last year, the company confirmed in February that it would wind down or divest its succession, criminal and family law practices, and reduce the size of its commercial litigation division.

Tim Downie, Slater and Gordon’s former SA practice group leader, who has joined Johnston Withers, said that clients had responded well to the local office’s transition to a new brand.

“If you build a relationship with your lawyer you generally like to stick with them – it’s very much a fiduciary relationship,” he said.

“What we’ll bring to Johnston Withers in particular is expertise – 20 years of experience in asbestos litigation – and we’ll become the first SA-based firm with that focus.

“It’s a really good fit with a firm that’s been around for more than 70 years, and with an office in Whyalla where a lot of our clients have historically come from.”

A Slater and Gordon spokeswoman said Johnston Withers was a highly regarded brand in the South Australian market.

“We are confident our clients will continue to receive the same high standard of service they have come to expect,” she said.

“Both Slater and Gordon and Johnston Withers look forward to maintaining a strong and ongoing referral relationship.”

Johnston Withers is headquartered on Sturt St in Adelaide’s CBD, and has offices in Roxby Downs, Whyalla, Port Augusta, Clare and Murray Bridge

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