Legal Business Blogs

What’s in a name? SJ Berwin and King & Wood Mallesons seal union

Forming a ground-breaking union between a leading City firm and an Asia powerhouse, King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) partners confirmed this morning (31 July) that the Hong Kong-headquartered firm would merge with the UK’s SJ Berwin.

KWM partners in Australia and China voted simultaneously in favour of the merger at 1pm Hong Kong time and 3pm Sydney time in person, while SJ Berwin partners have voted electronically over the last five days. The merger will go live on 1 November, creating a firm with combined revenues over $1bn and 2,223 lawyers, including 553 partners.

KWM operates three separate partnerships in China, Hong Kong and Australia and although the Chinese partnership was given a longer time to consider the deal, all votes were in by today’s deadline.

Significantly, the move means that SJ Berwin will ultimately lose its name, becoming the European arm of the KWM Swiss Verein, the fourth partnership under the verein structure. However, Stuart Fuller, global managing partner of KWM (pictured centre right), said that for an interim period the partnership will trade under the name King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin.

The union required 75% of partners to vote in favour and although this was clearly achieved, the firm refused to break down the voting results. Fuller denied the market rumour that legacy Mallesons partners weren’t as on board with the merger as its Chinese and Hong Kong counterparts.

‘We are delighted to welcome SJ Berwin on board. This will provide our clients in the region with a first-class platform and an entrepreneurial spirit to support their international expansion,’ said Fuller.

‘As a combined firm we continue to reshape the global legal industry with our firms having quality regional strength and depth and a unique capability in Asia that allows us to connect Asia to the world and the world to Asia. We believe we do that in a way that no other firm does,’ he added.

Stephen Kon, senior partner of SJ Berwin (pictured centre left), said that his firm had enjoyed a long working history with legacy King & Wood and had previously worked together on funds work, stating that ‘the genesis of the deal goes back years’.

Financially, SJ Berwin recorded a 2% revenue increase to £184.6m, while KWM recorded a turnover of $713m in our latest Global 100 report.

The logistics of the deal mean that KWM lawyers based in London will work closely with SJ Berwin lawyers, and similarly where SJ Berwin has offices in Asia, the lawyers will use each firm’s premises. Fuller said that the firm is developing an international integration plan that would take effect from 1 November, where staff from the London office of KWN will join SJ Berwin while in Hong Kong and Shanghai, lawyers from SJ Berwin will move into the offices of KWM.

From 1 November, Stephen Kon will be deputy chairman of KWM alongside KWM Australia chair Stephen Minns (pictured left), while Fuller will remain global managing partner and Wang Junfeng will stay as chairman. Current SJ Berwin managing partner Rob Day will join the executive committee, which is made up of the managing partners of the member firms, including Wang Ling, managing partner China of KWN (pictured right) and Sue Kench, managing partner Australia at KWM.