SJ Berwin partners to vote on KWM deal next week

SJ Berwin partners will vote on a combination with King & Wood Mallesons next week. 

Stephen Kon
Stephen Kon

SJ Berwin partners will vote on a combination with King & Wood Mallesons next week. Partners were informed today that the vote will begin in seven days time, with the result due at the end of the month. It represents an escalation of the timetable, since the vote was was originally scheduled for the autumn.

One source close to the talks said: “Momentum has gathered.”

Another source said: “We’ve been seeking a suitable international partner for sometime and has put in a significant amount of effort in doing so. It’s a long and winding road. But we are only a few steps away from reaching a conclusion in the coming few weeks.

“We’re very hopeful the outcome will be positive and will be a landmark event both for the firms and in the global legal markets.”

An SJ Berwin spokesperson said: “We do not comment on market speculation.”

The touted tie-up of SJ Berwin and King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) was first reported by The Lawyer in November 2012, amidst rumours that it could go live as early as this summer (12 November 2012).

Voting will take place online to ensure that every partner has a say on the global merger, which would create a £600m firm that would see the UK outfit’s name disappear (20 May 2012).

As a result of the union, SJ Berwin would become one of four partnerships under KWM’s Swiss Verein, which already consists of financially independent arms in China, Hong Kong and Australia. Each unit of the combined firm will vote separately on the tie-up, meaning any of the four firms can veto the deal.

Despite not integrating financially with KWM’s network, the SJ Berwin name – used by the firm since it was founded by Stanley J Berwin in 1982 – is set to be scrapped.

The firm is thought to have put the potential merger to partners at its annual partner retreat in Marbella in June (7 June 2013). The conference was the first time it had been discussed by the entire partnership.

The deal has understood to have received broad acceptance among SJ Berwin partners, who are said to be more at home with the prospective merger than they were with the firm’s failed discussions with New York’s Proskauer Rose in 2010.

The Chinese and Hong Kong partnerships are also thought likely to approve the deal. The biggest challenge comes from the legacy Mallesons partners in Australia. The Australian cohort is reportedly particularly fussy over the firm’s choice of UK merger partner amid a busy period for domestic firms tying up with City outfits like Herbert Smith and Linklaters.

The initial talks between SJ Berwin and KWM are understood to have been initiated by the UK firm’s former senior partner Jonathan Blake. Both firms had been on the hunt for merger partners, with a high-ranking SJ Berwin team travelling to Australia to seek a local deal (20 February 2013) and KWM being lined up to join forces with Singapore’s WongPartnership before Wong pulled out a few days before the merger was announced (17 March 2013).

For more insight into the potential tie-up read our feature: Berwin in a China Shop