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Northern Australia's leading law firm is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a justifiable sense of pride.

Ward Keller has moved up in the world – literally and figuratively – since being founded in Darwin in 1963.

The firm, as it is now recognised, was established by Dick Ward (Dick Ward Drive is named after him) and Richard Keller.

Although the firm was founded under its present name 60 years ago, it first established in 1910 with Ross Mallam, who used to work out of the old Bell Tearooms, before undergoing several name changes.

The business has grown to a staff of more than 50 and offers the most comprehensive range of legal services in the Northern Territory.

Its headquarters is now on the seventh floor in NT House, the impressive office tower that sits on the site of the long-demolished tearooms.

Ward Keller quite rightly sees itself as the Territory law firm and this is exemplified through its proud history of servicing the NT community.

Throughout its history, the firm has continually been at the forefront of developments in property, agribusiness, mining and, more recently, renewable projects.

The firm has specialists in nearly every aspect of law – from native title to commercial contracts, from family law to criminal law.

Managing partner Teresa Hall, who has been with Ward Keller for 12 years, says: “We try to reflect what the community – commercial and private – requires.”

Ward Keller has 54 staff, including 22 lawyers: 47 in Darwin and seven in Alice Springs.

Although most of the lawyers are in Darwin, the firm has a strong presence in Central Australia.

It is by far the largest legal firm in the NT.

The size of the firm, the depth of specialist skills and the fact that many of the staff were either born in the Territory or have lived here for many years gives Ward Keller an unmatched breadth of capability.

The firm’s range of legal coverage is unique for an Australian legal services provider..

“We’ve got tremendous local knowledge,” says Ms Hall, who became the firm’s first female managing partner in July 2022. “And that’s very important in our work. We know the Territory, we understand the Territory.”

Staff must like working for Ward Keller – 12 have been there for more than 10 years, which is quite an achievement in a transient town such as Darwin.

For instance, Karen Friscich started as a clerk, typing up documents, and became a lawyer – 35 years ago.

“She is the heart and soul of the firm,” says Ms Hall.

Kevin Stephens, the first Darwin-born partner, joined the firm straight from university 30 years ago. He is a nationally recognised expert on native title, an aspect of life in Northern Australia that baffles most entrepreneurs and investors, especially those from overseas.

The other partners have also been with Ward Keller for many years – Michael Grove for more than 25 years (in two stints but for his last stint he has been there for 15 years), Leon Loganathan for 20 years, Ashley Heath for 18 years, Charlie Martel for six years, and Martin Kelly and Andrew Elliott for two years.

Many notable Ward Keller lawyers, such as Trevor Riley, Steve Southwood, John Neill, Hugh Bradley, Vince Luppino and David Alderman, have gone to the bar or bench.

Unsurprisingly, Ward Keller is the go-to law firm for nearly every government espoused major project in the Territory.

Many national and international investors in the Territory have made game-changing contributions to the Territory’s economy on the back of Ward Keller’s resources and legal expertise.

It is the leading firm in resources and pastoral work. “We’re a full-service firm,” Mr Stephens says. “We can service clients in a wide range of legal areas. “We pride ourselves on having specialists in every area, such as crime, work health, tax, mining and commercial.


  • Banking and finance
  • Banking and finance
  • Building and construction
  • Business
  • Business and share transfers
  • Commercial disputes
  • Debt collection
  • Employment
  • Environmental law and regulation
  • Information technology
  • Infrastructure and major projects
  • Insurance
  • Intellectual property
  • Leasing and franchising
  • Liquor licencing
  • Migration
  • Mining and resources
  • Pastoral and agribusiness
  • Property law
  • Securities
  • Stamp duty and payroll tax
  • Conveyancing
  • Criminal law
  • Discrimination
  • Employment
  • Estate planning
  • Family law
  • Insurance
  • Medical negligence
  • Migration
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Notary public
  • Personal injury
  • Workers’ compensation

“We’re the Territory law firm. Our people are experts in Territory situations. We offer far more than just the dry law.

“We’re part of the fabric of Territory society and, as part of that, we attempt to show our support to worthy community pursuits wherever we can.”

One of the firm’s key pro-bono alliances is with the Sport Access Foundation, which provides grants to children with disabilities to help them engage in sport.

Ward Keller recruits some of its staff from Charles Darwin University.

“We’re always on the lookout for skilled people who are committed to the Territory,” says Ms Hall, who specialises in commercial law, including property transactions and major projects.

“Our clients look to have relationships with people who know the Territory. We’re here for the Territory.”

Ward Keller is a happy, enthusiastic and inclusive workplace.

Malaysia-born Leon Loganathan has been at Ward Keller for 20 years.

“My wife is from Darwin and we decided to settle here after the birth of our first child,” he says. “We have no regrets about that decision.”

Straight-talking Mr Loganathan, who is chair of the worldwide Lawyers Association, specialises in commercial work.

“It’s not the law I love as much as helping people solve their problems,” he says. “I love walking into a room and solving a problem that clients thought couldn’t be solved.

“The law shouldn’t be just about giving legal advice. We help people get through their problems. That distinguishes us from other law firms.

“To work to our standard you have to have local knowledge.”


Ward Keller has been involved in many of the most famous legal cases in Territory history.

In 1933, one of the firm’s lawyers, a man with the extravagant name of William Joseph Pius Fitzgerald, defended Dhakiyarr Wirrapanda, who was accused of murdering police constable Stewart McColl at what is now known as Blue Mud Bay in Arnhem Land.

Dhakiyarr, the great grandfather of Northern Land Council chair Sam Bush-Blanasi, was convicted and sentenced to death, but freed on appeal.

Police took him to the Kahlin compound after his release … and he was never seen again. Historians believe he was murdered by police.

Another lawyer, the eccentric Ross Ibbotson Dalton Mallam, had a strong social conscience and defended some of those involved in the 1918 Darwin Rebellion, a union-led movement that tried to storm Government House in a bid to oust unpopular Administrator John Gilruth.

The history of Ward Keller is told by Robyn Smith in Antecedents.