Stephen Kon, King & Wood Malleson
Stephen Kon, King & Wood Malleson ()

King & Wood Mallesons’ (KWM) former Europe and Middle East (EUME) senior partner Stephen Kon has resigned, as multiple firms circle various parts of the embattled business.

Competition lawyer Kon, who joined legacy SJ Berwin in 1982, served as EUME senior partner for four and a half years from 2012, during which time he oversaw the merger between legacy SJ Berwin and China/Australia firm King & Wood Mallesons.

He stood down from his leadership role in September and is retiring from legal practice.

His exit comes as a host of firms are in discussions to take on various partners from KWM EUME, which is heading towards a pre-pack administration that is likely to happen next month.

Reed Smith is in discussions with a large number of partners, understood to include competition partner Tom Usher and joint head of life sciences and healthcare Cameron Firth, as well as a number of tax partners including London tax head Gareth Amdor.

Usher and Firth are also understood to be among the partners talking to Winston & Strawn.

Meanwhile, heavyweight finance partner Steven Cowins is understood to be in talks to join Mayer Brown alongside a number of other finance partners.

Other firms that are interested in taking on parts of KWM Europe include KWM’s own Asian arm, Greenberg Traurig and DLA Piper. One source close to the matter told Legal Week that nine firms are currently involved in discussions with partners.

Dentons had previously been talking to KWM’s European management about a potential deal to take over the EUME business but is no longer doing so, leaving no single firm left in contention to take on the whole business.

Addleshaw Goddard is advising KWM’s China arm in relation to matters including possible acquisitions.

Last week, sources at KWM said the EUME business is heading for a pre-pack administration, with negotiations already at an advanced stage. One source said this is likely to happen in mid-January.

Legal Week also revealed that KWM has updated its partnership deed to ensure that any tax losses are split fairly between current and former partners in the event of collapse.

The partnership is understood to have voted in the change earlier this month.

Issues for KWM’s Europe branch came to a head in late October, following the resignation of four high profile London partners including former managing partner Rob Day and UK funds head Michael Halford, who are joining Proskauer Rose and Goodwin Procter respectively.

The exits forced the firm to put its recapitalisation plans on hold to reassess its financial situation, prompting a revised proposal with an additional bailout from Asia, subject to European commitment. This commitment from Europe never came, leaving the business in crisis.

It is understood that the firm informed staff and associates at meetings last month that they would guarantee salaries until January.

All firms named in this article declined to comment.

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