When The Australian poached The AFR’s respected legal
editor Chris Merritt last year, it gloated long and hard about its
coup. Our two national papers have been aggressively battling over the
legal turf ever since but never has the war been so evident that in
today’s papers.

Directly under its masthead on page one today, The Australian
declared the following: “LETTER OF THE LAW: Chris Merritt introduces
the nation’s top legal section. Prejudice, the best hearsay, Four-page
partnership survey.”

And there it was, seven broadsheet pages in the middle of The Australian’s
business section – more space than the regular business coverage was
given. Has a daily newspaper ever produced so much in a legal section?

The Australian’s reference to hearsay is particularly cheeky because that was the column Merritt used to edit on The AFR which has now been taken over by Marcus Priest. Merritt’s legal gossip column on The Australian is called “Prejudice.”

But The AFR isn’t taking this challenge lying down, putting
legal stories on the front page two days in a row. Yesterday we had “Law
firms churn and burn partners” and today there’s a story headlined
“Law’s young guns shoot through,” which suggests young lawyers no
longer see partnership as the holy grail of their careers.

As 30 June approaches, the big law firms are admitting their new partners and Freehills and Gadens both chose The AFR
for their big ads announcing their new additions, thereby helping to
pay for today’s five page legal section, which was bigger than the
entire companies section.

However, The Australian carried an even bigger Freehills ad and
other firms to advertise in Rupert Murdoch’s national broadsheet
included Allens Arthur Robinson, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Thomson
Playford, Maurice Blackman Cashman, recruitment firm Hays Legal and a
couple of universities, Edith Cowen and Monash.

Judging by today’s papers, The Australian has a bigger section
supported by more ads, but who’s winning the contest for best
coverage? We’ve got several hundred lawyers on the Crikey data base,
including 47 from Freehills alone, so send your feedback to
[email protected]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey