Legal Business

To soar or crash with an Asian giant

If you are going to finally do a global merger, it would be fitting for one of the most distinctive City practices to hook up with the great outlier of the Global 100. That is what is on the agenda for SJ Berwin as it this summer mulls an outline deal to combine with King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), the ground-breaking union between the top commercial law firms in China and Australia.

And what an outlier KWM is. When large mergers happen in the profession, a received wisdom among clients and peers soon takes hold. But since KWM was formed in March 2012, creating a 2,100-lawyer Asia-Pacific giant, consensus has resolutely failed to emerge. For some, it is a world-beater with an unmatchable position in the most powerful economic region of the 21st century. For others, it is a desperate act by two firms who had saturated their domestic markets and faced the awkward reality that their businesses won’t easily go global. After all, Australian and People’s Republic of China law travels badly and the increasingly heavily-lawyered and fee-sensitive Asia-Pacific region is currently struggling to live up to expectations.