SJ Berwin has held talks with King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) over a transformational tie-up with the Asia-Pacific giant.
The UK firm is pushing to pursue a combination with the Chinese and Australian firm, which comes after KWM global managing partner Stuart Fuller confirmed to The Lawyer earlier this year that the firm had held discussions with either SJ Berwin or US outfit Nixon Peabody (21 May 2012).
A deal, creating a firm with combined revenues of roughly £600m, would have to be structured as a Swiss Verein due to Chinese regulatory restrictions preventing a full merger.
Management at the City firm is understood to have received broad backing for pursuing a deal with KWM at a weekend strategy meeting last month, in which the firm’s position in the market was discussed. Some partners on the KWM side are said to be less positive about a deal.
An SJ Berwin partner commented: “I know that they’ve had discussions with them. There’s resistance to it from the Australian side because they see themselves as suitors for a firm like Clifford Chance or Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer].”
SJ Berwin’s 2011-12 turnover was £180.1m, while KWM’s 2011-12 Australian revenue of A$424m (£276m) and the legacy Chinese arm’s roughly RMB1.6bn (£160m) income for 2011 give the Asia-Pacific firm a total income figure of around £430m.
KWM has already told partners it aims to open offices in Canada, Russia and South East Asia in the wake of the merger of China’s King & Wood and Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques earlier this year (18 June 2012).
SJ Berwin has also continued to consider foreign mergers following the collapse of talks with US firm Proskauer Rose in 2010, with the City firm briefly entering into discussions with Chicago-headquartered Mayer Brown (22 May 2012).
Fuller said: “Like all law firms, we regularly assess the strategic opportunities that are available to us, but do not make, and do not intend to make, any public comment in relation to them.”