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Crunch time for KWM as partners meet over Chinese bailout deal

King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) global managing partner Stuart Fuller has stepped down from his leadership role as the firm meets today to hear a proposal to stabilise its European business.

Legacy Mallesons Stephen Jaques managing partner Fuller (pictured) had held the top job since 2012, after the Australian firm merged with China’s King & Wood. He will return to practice in Sydney in 2017, and the firm said that it is starting the process of appointing a new global head. He informed the firm of his decision in recent weeks.

KWM has had a turbulent time of late, in particular with its legacy European practice, which was forced to halt its recapitalisation plans last month after the loss of four high-billing partners, funds partner Michael Halford, former managing partner Rob Day and corporate finance partners Andrew Wingfield and Jonathan Pittal.

The new leadership for the Europe and Middle Eastern partnership, managing partner Tim Bednall and senior partner Michael Cziesla, flew to China last week to talk about the future of the firm. It is understood that KWM will hold a partners’ meeting at midday in London to discuss proposals for the Asia Pacific business to offer support to the European business, which is currently carrying over £30m in debt.

Previous indications are that the Australian and Chinese practices could make a capital injection and offer additional guarantees with European partners likely asked to also make additional capital contributions. Substantive support may involve some form of lock-in to stabilise the business.

Legal Business revealed last week that KWM has been in talks with Morgan Lewis & Bockius for a merger, discussions which had become strained since the departure of key partner Halford.

However, Fuller’s decision to stand down is not directly related to recent events. Fuller had been instrumental to the firm, filling the vacuum in Europe after former managing partner William Boss stepped down early into his first term in January this year. He fronted a large redundancy round in March alongside former senior partner Stephen Kon and made efforts to reassure clients in the region.

Fuller said in a statement: ‘After over a decade in leadership roles in Australia, and almost five years as global managing partner, I believe it’s the right time for a change for me, my family and the firm.’

He added: ‘I am proud of the global firm that we have built over that time, and our achievements over that period, and continue to be excited by the firm’s enormous potential.’

Read more on KWM in ‘Comment: The moment of truth arrives in the SJ Berwin saga’

For an in-depth assessment of KWM, subscribers can see our July cover feature ‘Branded’