King & Wood Mallesons looks West for international expansion

King & Wood Mallesons is on the lookout for tie-up partners in the US and UK as part of its bid to become a leading international firm, with Nixon Peabody and SJ Berwin touted by market commentators as early contenders.

Stuart Fuller
Stuart Fuller

King & Wood Mallesons’ global managing partner Stuart Fuller, who has been based in Hong Kong since January 2012, spoke at a conference of law firm leaders in Pebble Beach, California, between 8 and 10 May, about how the firm was now looking at a tie-up in North America. However Fuller did not put a timeline on the plans.

Fuller was in the UK last week, introducing some of his Chinese partners to the firm’s professional indemnity insurers in London as part of its half-year update. He told The Lawyer: “The firm has a very clear long-term vision: we want to be a leading international firm. The firm will always be centred on Asia-Pacific but we still need US/UK capability. Why, how, when and with whom we do this has not been decided yet.

“There’s nothing that says we have to do it in a particular timeline but the markets are moving fairly quickly. Also, there’s lot of flexibility as to how we achieve it.”

Fuller added that the range of ways that UK firms had approached the Australian market showed the flexibility firms have in approaching new markets. Allen & Overy, for instance, opened its own offices in Sydney and Perth after taking teams from Clayton Utz (8 February 2010) while Linklaters and Allens Arthur Robinson recently signed an exclusive alliance agreement (23 April 2012).

“A King & Wood style tie-up is always an option,” added Fuller, taking about entering the US and UK. “We can bring in partner firms easily because of the structure of the Swiss verein [at King & Wood Mallesons], but we could also do referral relationships and alliances.”

Two early contenders that have been associated with King & Wood Mallesons are US firm Nixon Peabody and SJ Berwin. When asked about talks Fuller confirmed that he had spoken with one of these firms, but would not say which one and added that the talks had not been specific.

A spokesperson for SJ Berwin responded by saying that they did not comment on speculation while a spokesperson for Nixon Peabody said that the firm did not wish to comment.

In March this year Nixon Peabody, announced that it had formed an alliance with Chinese firm Hylands Law Firm in addition to its existing alliance with Hong Kong firm CWL Partners (13 March 2012), suggesting that if it had been in talks with King & Wood Mallesons these may now have fallen through.

PRC firm King & Wood and Australian firm Mallesons combined to form King & Wood Mallesons on 1 March 2012 through a Swiss verein structure that, initially, comprises three separate partnerships – in Australia, China and Hong Kong (15 December 2011).