King & Wood Mallesons: A History

Dr Patrick Mullins

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

King & Wood Mallesons is today a leading, multinational firm with twenty-seven offices around the globe and yearly revenues of more than AUD$1.5b. The bulk of its history, however, lies in Australia. Its roots stretch back to the mid-1800s and reach across the country, encompassing antecedent firms in Perth (Stone James & Co., founded in 1832), Melbourne (Mallesons, 1852), Sydney (Stephen Jaques & Stephen, 1849), and Canberra (Davies Bailey & Cater, 1926). It has had significant clients, ranging from banks to newspapers to insurance agents, and has been involved in an enormous range of pivotal legal matters, from the nationalisation fights of the 1940s to the privatisation of Telstra at the turn of the millennium. Moreover, the various founders and partners of these firms, in their time, have been significant figures in their communities, heavily involved in political, commercial, and cultural life.

I was commissioned two-and-a-quarter years ago to research and write an account of this history. In this talk, I will discuss the three guiding aims that I adopted, and how they have manifested in the work, thereby helping to broaden what might otherwise be dismissed as a vanity project (as legal historian Humphrey Keenlyside has said, of law firm histories) to a history that sheds significant light on the development and evolution of Australian jurisprudence, commercial enterprise, political change, and the social and cultural life of this country.

Patrick Mullins is a Canberra-based writer. He is the author of Tiberius with a Telephone: the life and stories of William McMahon(2018), winner of the 2020 National Biography Award and the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, and The Trials of Portnoy (2020), which was shortlisted for the 2021 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction