King & Wood and Mallesons ink game-changing combination

After a year of negotiations King & Wood and Mallesons Stephen Jaques will today seal their tie-up deal, which will create a three-partnership Asia-centric international firm.

King & Wood and Mallesons will sign the long-anticipated agreement in Hong Kong’s China Club to create a new legal brand – King & Wood Mallesons – which will become effective on 1 March 2012.

Representatives of each firm’s senior leadership who have been involved in merger talks over the last 12 months, together with partners from both firms’ Hong Kong offices, will attend the signing ceremony.

The proposed combination was first announced in July this year and recently received positive votes from more than 95 per cent of the partners at each of the two firms.

The combined firm, structured as a Swiss verein, will initially comprise three legally and financially separate partnerships – in Australia, China and Hong Kong.  It will be a firm with over 380 partners and 1,800 lawyers under a common brand with co-ordinated management and a co-ordinated approach to clients, people and practice. 

The two firms’ Hong Kong offices will be fully merged into a single partnership, and all Hong Kong staff in both offices will be employed by the new partnership.

“We’ve been talking with each other since November last year. From the early stage of our discussion we’ve realised that there’s a high degree of similarity in our vision. Both firms view Asia as a significant and increasingly important place of the world economy and desire to be a prominent international force based in Asia,” said Robert Milliner, the chief executive partner of Mallesons who is one of the main driving force behind the deal.

“After the 2008 global financial crisis, there have been significant changes in the global market which have driven us to review and revise our strategy. We’ve seen a compelling shift of focus of our clients to Asia and have noticed the increasingly dominant role of China in the global economy. We’ve envisioned that our future development focus should be Asia,” said Milliner.

That said, the firm expects there to be further mergers and expansion in other key jurisdictions. Mallesons has confirmed that it is in discussions with a number of firms, including Singapore’s WongPartnership, but the combination with King & Wood is the first step.

The combined firm will have an overarching management committee that will have equal representation of partners from each firms. Global management of the firm will be led by Stuart Fuller, Mallesons’ newly elected chief executive partner, who will become the global managing partner of the combined firm. He will relocate to Hong Kong to also become chief executive of that office. King & Wood’s principal founder and chairman Wang Junfeng will be chairman of the new firm.

The management committee and the client and practice sub-committees will be the main vehicles for coordination and integration of the new firm’s strategy. From 1 March 2012 there will be co-practice team leaders and client relationship partners.

“King & Wood Mallesons will be a genuine combination of equals and will enhance the position of both firms,” said Fuller. “The combination positions us powerfully to take advantage of the ‘Asian Century’ and to realise our vision to be a truly international firm.

“With any combination, there are significant change management and integration issues. We’re acutely aware and respectful of the cultural differences between the two firms, but don’t see this as a barrier. In some areas, the degree of similarity between us is high and in others there are significant differences. We’re committed to recognising the differences and preserving the best of both.”

King & Wood currently has 200 partners and 650 associates. Mallesons has over 170 partners and 753 legal staff. The combined Hong Kong partnership will have 31 partners and over 130 lawyers, making it the fourth largest firm in Hong Kong.