Incoming SJ Berwin senior partner eyes international expansion

SJ Berwin’s senior partner-elect is putting international expansion at the centre of his strategy, with a US merger a “work in progress” and a Singapore launch and expansion in Dubai firmly on the agenda.

Stephen Kon
Stephen Kon

Stephen Kon, who was elected yesterday, said he was  “committed to international growth” and was set to put the cautious swelling of the Asian practice in his plans for the silver circle firm.

“I, as is [managing partner] Rob [Day], am committed to international growth of the firm. We have no interest in it becoming an international franchise firm,” he told The Lawyer.

“Dubai’s a key centre in international development. Asia will be key, but it needs a great deal of thought and we need to do it in a sensible way.

“The obvious complementary jurisdiction would be Singapore, which is something that is obviously on our radar.”

The firm has not applied for a licence to practice in Singapore, but has been looking at the hub as part of a strategy to grow in Asia, partly by attempting to attract a senior hire to take over the regional managing partner role (21 February 2012).

SJ Berwin has already stated its commitment to an American tie-up despite the breakdown of advanced talks with New York’s Proskauer Rose in 2010, with Day last year describing accessing the US market as a “merger-only option” (6 June 2011).

Kon – a key negotiator in the Proskauer talks – yesterday reaffirmed the firm’s plans to revisit the opportunity with another firm.

“Certainly, as I emphasised during the campaign, a merger with [a] US [firm] is something we’re looking at and we’re continuously looking to be nimble about the way we approach it,” he said yesterday.

“It’s a work in progress and something we’re considering. At this point we’re not pro-actively looking for a merger partner. We have a reasonably good understanding of the US market. I’m not and don’t think Rob is majoring on a US merger – we haven’t got anyone out there looking.”

SJ Berwin and Proskauer called off their protracted merger discussions in November 2010 (12 November 2010).

Kon was revealed as the new senior partner yesterday in an 8.30am note to partners and will take over from funds partner Jonathan Blake for a three-year term on 1 May (15 March 2012).

The EU and competition chief beat litigation partner Hilton Mervis in the poll, after Blake decided not to stand for a third term (3 February 2012).