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KWM China in talks with selected legacy SJ Berwin offices to secure European presence

King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) China is understood to have bid for an out-of-administration purchase of certain legacy SJ Berwin offices including Dubai, Germany, Italy and Spain. It is also talking with partners to keep an outpost in London.

If a deal is agreed, the acquisition will remain within a verein structure, and the business will take on a significant number of lawyers but without any of legacy SJ Berwin’s liabilities.

While the Chinese arm is interested in these parts of the business, it is not yet clear what will happen to other outposts in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

KWM’s European practice is carrying more than £30m in debt and after plans to recapitalise the business failed in November, it is expected to move into administration in January.

Last week the firm registered a new LLP in the UK under the name KWM Deutschland, which may include part or all of the new European entity which the Asian arm is keen to retain.

Yesterday (19 December) it was revealed that K&L Gates and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe have also taken on a number of lawyers from KWM’s Munich office, while one of KWM’s top billers Craig Pollack and part of his team are to join Covington & Burling pending a partnership vote.

DLA Piper will take on real estate partner William Naunton and several members of his team including partners Cornelius Medvei, Bryan Pickup, Ed Page, George Burrha and Jeremy Brooks. Managing associate Omer Maroof will also join as a partner, alongside eight other lawyers and three trainees.

Tax partner Clive Jones will join Greenberg Traurig, alongside top biller Steve Cowins and Marc Snell, M&A partners Michael Goldberg and David Fitzgerald and partner Matthew Priday along with their teams.

These are the latest in a long line of defects from KWM’s European business; heavyweight biller Michael Halford has last month joined Goodwin Procter with other funds partners Ajay Pathak, Ed Hall, Shawn D’Aguiar and Patrick Deasy.

Former KWM managing partner William Boss was hired earlier this month by Addleshaw Goddard, alongside Simon Tager and Michael Scott. Meanwhile former senior partner Stephen Kon confirmed last week he would retire from the law.

Reed Smith is another firm in talks with several partners, while Dentons had expressed interest in a merger deal, but has since pulled out of discussions.

Corporate finance partner Andrew Wingfield and former managing partner Rob Day also joined Proskauer Rose. The pair’s resignation, along with Halford and Jonathan Pittal’s exits caused KWM to halt its recapitalisation plans in October. Since, the Asian arm had offered to inject the necessary cash into the business but the deal, subject to approval from a majority of partners, did not go through.

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’