Though a firm spokeswoman declined to comment, two SJ Berwin sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed that partners were given notice of the impending vote during a partnership meeting Wednesday. The voting process will begin within the next seven days, the partners were informed, and will close by the end of July—although a decision about whether the combination will proceed could be made as early as next week.
One current SJ Berwin partner, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the deal, which would also require the approval of the King & Wood Mallesons partnerships in Australia, China, and Hong Kong, was “almost certain” to get the go-ahead from the U.K. firm. The process was moving “more quickly than expected," this partner added, noting that when the proposed combination was announced by SJ Berwin management at the firm’s annual partnership retreat in June, the vote was originally scheduled for the fall.
The combined firm would boast aggregate revenues of more than $1 billion while employing some 2,200 lawyers, making it one of the world’s 10 largest law firms by attorney head count, according to The American Lawyer’s Global 100 survey.
As is the case with King & Wood Mallesons, which was formed through the combination of China’s King & Wood and Australia’s Mallesons Stephen Jacques in March 2012, the deal would be structured as a Swiss verein, meaning that the firms would remain distinct legal and financial entities.
Although there have been a spate of tie-ups between English and Australian firms over the past 18 months, the one now being weighed by SJ Berwin would be the first-ever large-scale Anglo-Chinese combination. It has been reported that SJ Berwin’s brand would disappear as a result of the union, with the combined firm continuing to operate as King & Wood Mallesons.
SJ Berwin previously held merger talks with both Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Proskauer Rose in 2010. Former SJ Berwin managing partner Rob Day told The Am Law Daily at that time that the firm remained interested in sealing a U.S. deal.
The SJ Berwin spokeswoman told The Am Law Daily: “We do not comment on market speculation.”