KWM China in talks to pick up 10-lawyer City disputes team

City of London

King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) China is in discussions to acquire a team of more than 10 London dispute resolution lawyers, as it bids to retain a small outpost in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, staffed with lawyers from the rapidly disintegrating legacy SJ Berwin business.

International arbitration partner Andrei Yakovlev and dispute resolution partners Dorothy Murray and Darren Roiser are understood to be among the team in discussions with KWM’s China arm, with several other partners also said to be involved, according to sources close to the firm.

Yakovlev has been a partner at KWM since 2014, when he joined from Winston & Strawn. He splits his time between the firm’s Dubai and City bases.

Murray joined in 2010 from legacy Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, while Rosier is the most junior partner in the team, having been made up to the partnership earlier this year.

The team as a whole is said to advise a range of financial institutions, governments, state-owned enterprises and oligarchs, and is understood to have more than a dozen large active cases on its books.

KWM China is also in talks with a London corporate/commercial team, as well as lawyers from the firm’s Dubai, Germany, Italy and Spain offices.

The China arm of the verein has made offers to the partners it wants to keep but because many of the remaining European partners now have multiple offers from different firms, it is unclear how many will ultimately join, with the number of partners joining having a knock-on effect on associates.

One source said that if KWM were to complete the disputes acquisition, the firm could retain more than 30 lawyers in London.

Dubai office head Tim Taylor QC is playing a key role in the acquisition discussions with China, according to partners.

KWM Europe filed an intention of notice to appoint administrators yesterday at London’s High Court, which means it now has 10 working days until it must file for administration or file another intention to appoint an administrator. Ten working days would take it to 9 January for a likely filing, however it is thought to be more likely to file for administration the following week.

The firm’s problems in Europe came to a head in October with the resignation of four high profile London partners, with numerous partners quitting since then.

The resignations halted a £14m recapitalisation plan, with a subsequent scheme that included a bailout from the Chinese arm failing because only 16% of partners in the Europe and Middle East business gave it their support.

This breakdown in confidence led to the European management team looking for a potential suitor with firms including Dentons, however these discussions broke down, with the partnership effectively splintering into small groups of individuals.