King & Wood Mallesons’ global ambitions

It could have been a £170m business, edging the top 20 of The Lawyer UK200. But the news today that the talks are off means that Withers and Speechly Bircham join the roll call of Field Fisher Waterhouse and Lawrence Graham, Addleshaws and Nabarro, Field Fisher Waterhouse and Osborne Clarke, and Dundas & Wilson and Bircham Dyson Bell.

In its current form King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) is widely regarded as an Asia-Pacific firm although that may be about to change.

The Lawyer revealed yesterday that KWM has locked in a merger deal with UK firm SJ Berwin. The plan, if voted through by both sides’ partners, will see SJ Berwin becoming part of the KWM Swiss Verein and giving up its name on 1 July.

The deal has received broad acceptance among SJ Berwin partners and is strongly backed by KWM’s Beijing-based global chair Wong Junfeng. However, the biggest challenge, it seems, lies within KWM’s Australian partnership, as the legacy Mallesons partners are understood to be very particular about the firm’s choice of UK merger partner amid a busy period for domestic firms tying up with City outfits such as Herbert Smith and Linklaters.

In a more immediate term, KWM will also need to fill a leadership gap in Australia. The gap was left by the sudden resignation of Australia managing partner Tony O’Malley and the retirement of managing partner for corporate M&A and tax Tim Blue, both in Sydney. The firm’s global managing partner Stuart Fuller noted that the board has started the process of appointing a new Australia managing partner, but the announcement won’t be made until two weeks later.

All this comes just months after KWM failed attempt to plug a practice gap in Singapore through a merger with WongPartnership. The Singaporean firm walked away from the deal just days before a tie-up was due to be announced.

Having learned some valuable lessons in Singapore, KWM will be hoping to avoid similar pitfalls in London.

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