SJ Berwin sends high-level delegation to scout Aussie market

SJ Berwin has sent a delegation of senior figures to Australia to seek a combination with a local firm as it aims to become the latest foreign outfit to enter the increasingly attractive market Down Under.

Sources close to the matter have suggested that the trip included negotiations with Asia-Pacific firm King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), with which SJ Berwin has previously held tie-up talks.

Senior partner Stephen Kon, finance practice head Jeremy Cross and strategy director Rachel Reid are understood to have been in the jurisdiction in recent weeks in relation to the plans.

Meanwhile, Beijing-based KWM management committee chairman Wang Junfeng, founder of legacy King & Wood, is said to be highly supportive of adding SJ Berwin to its network.

A deal with an Australian firm would see SJ Berwin follow the likes of Ashurst, legacy Herbert Smith, Linklaters and Norton Rose into the country, with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer also calling on a headhunter to seek potential hires in the jurisdiction (26 October 2012).

To date, leading domestic firms Allens Arthur Robinson (now Allens), Blake Dawson, Deacons, Freehills and Mallesons Stephen Jaques have been subject to the foreign influx through mergers, financially unintegrated tie-ups or strategic alliances with Linklaters, Ashurst, Norton Rose, Herbert Smith and China’s King & Wood respectively.

Of the so-called Big Six of Allens, Blakes, Clayton Utz, Freehills, Mallesons and Minter Ellison, only Clayton Utz and Minter Ellison remain independent, but both have refused to rule out a foreign deal (1 August 2012).

Meanwhile, US firm K&L Gates merged with domestic business Middletons on 1 January this year (4 December 2012).

KWM, formed last year through the merger of King & Wood and Mallesons, has already held talks with SJ Berwin over a deal (12 November 2012) and cryptically confirmed in May last year that it had spoken to either the UK firm or America’s Nixon Peabody (12 May 2012).

A tie-up, likely to be structured as a Swiss Verein due to Chinese regulations that bar a full merger, would give a combined revenue figure for the group of roughly £600m.

SJ Berwin and KWM both declined to comment.