SJ Berwin partners gather in Marbella for crunch meeting on KWM merger

SJ Berwin is set to put its potential merger with Asia-Pacific firm King & Wood Mallesons to partners this weekend (8-9 June) for the first partnership-wide discussion on the deal since tie-up talks began.

The soundings will take place at the annual partner retreat taking place in Marbella, which will see management present the union to partners.

No vote will take place and no polling timetable has been released to the partnership. The timescale for the merger, including dates for a vote and a launch of the possible tie-up, has still not been confirmed.

So far talks with partners over the £600m combination have been restricted to small-scale presentations and discussions within practice groups and specific committees.

However, the Marbella conference this weekend will see SJ Berwin’s leaders move the internal discussion on to a new level, raising the possibility that a vote is becoming closer and more likely.

An internal source said: “We have discussed it around the firm but not as a whole partnership. There’s a partnership weekend this weekend. It’s going to be the first full partnership discussion of the merger. It’s been discussed in various committees.”

Senior partner Stephen Kon said from the pool in Marbella: “We don’t comment on market speculation, but I can comment that the weather in Marbella is lovely and that our annual partner conference in being held here over the weekend. In line with previous years but with more sun, sea and sand, we will be reviewing our financial outturn, our achievements during the year and our aims for 2013/14.”

Swimming pool
Senior partner Stephen Kon and the SJ Berwin partners might enjoy a pool like this

The firm is preparing to report financial results for 2012/13 in the coming weeks, with global revenues understood to be marginally up.

A source at the firm told The Lawyer in late May that a decision on whether to pursue the merger should be made on the SJ Berwin side within the coming month.

The touted tie-up, news of which was first reported by The Lawyer in November (12 November 2012), would see SJ Berwin join KWM’s Swiss Verein in a financially unintegrated merger under the King & Wood Mallesons brand (20 May 2013).

Among issues to be discussed at the conference will be the likely disappearance of the SJ Berwin name, but partners are not said to be overly concerned by its fate.

SJ Berwin’s partnership conferences now focus on discussions of strategic matters rather than formal votes on developments or policies.

The firm is understood to have moved away from using the retreats for votes on matters such as new partners. Last year’s conference in Hertfordshire in May saw the partnership vote on the recruitment of Frankfurt finance partner Walburga Kullmann from Dewey & LeBoeuf.

All voting now takes place online away from partnership conferences to ensure that people who cannot attend retreats can still use their mandate.

For an in-depth analysis of the potential merger between SJ Berwin and KWM, see Berwin in a China shop