KWM China in advanced talks with City corporate and banking team as partners expect administration pushback


King & Wood Mallesons’ (KWM) European arm is expected to file another intention of notice to appoint administrators on Monday (9 January), giving the firm’s China arm more time to finalise efforts to retain parts of the legacy SJ Berwin business.

KWM Europe filed an intention of notice to appoint administrators on 22 December, giving it a period of 10 working days after which it must either file for administration or file another intention to appoint an administrator. That deadline will be reached on Monday.

Multiple sources have told Legal Week that they do not expect the firm to enter into administration on that day, but instead file another intention to appoint an administrator.

KWM’s China arm is currently talking to a number of European partners about staying on at the firm, as it seeks to maintain a foothold across Europe. It is understood that banking partner Vanessa Docherty and corporate partners Joseph Newitt, Greg Stonefield and Wang Lianghau are among the London partners in discussions, along with a 10-lawyer City litigation team.

It is unclear how many European partners will ultimately join the Chinese partnership, with many partners considering multiple offers from other firms.

It is thought that KWM China could retain partners in eight out of nine KWM European offices – London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, Milan, Dubai, Brussels and Luxembourg. The firm’s Munich office is expected to close this month.

Separately, McDermott Will & Emery has hired KWM UK, Europe and Middle East senior partner Michael Cziesla as a corporate partner in Germany. The Frankfurt-based corporate partner was elected senior partner in October 2016, taking up the role from Stephen Kon who has since joined Macfarlanes.

He brings senior associate Norman Wasse with him, who joins McDermott as a counsel.

Meanwhile, key parts of the Paris office have also decided on or are considering other options. US firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher has today (6 January) announced that it has hired top-rated Paris investment funds co-head Nathalie Duguay, with a team of associates set to follow her.

Yesterday (5 January), three firms announced hires from KWM, including Baker McKenzie, which is taking a seven-lawyer team including corporate partner Will Holder and employment head Carl Richards; while a trio of corporate partners, including former UK private equity co-head Jonathan Pittal, are joining Stephenson Harwood.

Other firms to have picked up partners include DLA Piper, Greenberg Traurig, Macfarlanes, K&L Gates, Winston & Strawn, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Fieldfisher, Addleshaw Goddard, Covington & Burling, Keystone Law, Proskauer and Goodwin Procter.

Further afield, this week KWM’s China arm recruited two corporate partners from domestic rival JunHe in Beijing. Li Xiaoyang, who is dual qualified in China and the US, is returning to KWM after leaving for JunHe a decade ago, alongside fellow JunHe partner Han Yue. KWM said the hires would help the firm strengthen its cross-border corporate practice, especially with deals between China and the US.