King & Wood Mallesons
Asia-Pacific powerhouse King & Wood Mallesons is one of the largest law firms in the Asia Pacific region, and legacy Mallesons is also one of the oldest. Its history stretches back to 1832, when 25 year-old Londoner Alfred Brooks Malleson borrowed the princely sum of £10 from his uncle to set up his own law firm in Melbourne.
Since those early days, the firm has grown into a commercial behemoth boasting over 2,000 employees, of which 1,030 are lawyers. It set up shop in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Canberra, Hong Kong, Beijing, London and Shanghai, and also has an associated office in Papua New Guinea. And it boasts a pretty impressive client roster including the likes of Westpac, Suncorp, the Westfield Group and Chevron.
KWM has also done its bit to look innovative. It was the first Australian firm to offer 14 week’s paid parental leave to staff members and it was amongst the first to be accredited as a FairTrade workplace. In transparency terms too, the firm is keen to pave the way. The board made the unusual decision to open its books to the public in an effort to show clients how it’s performing. Although this transparency does not always seem to extend to its employees, with complaints about stealth layoffs and unclear salary structures.
Legacy Mallesons twice attempted to merge with Clifford Chance, in 1999 and again in 2008, but both attempts failed and the firm seemingly abandoned its UK aspirations. In November 2011, it announced its merger with Chinese firm King & Wood, the first ever Sino-Australian law firm tie-up. The union was formalised in March 2012 (accompanied by an exciting hoverbike-based branding campaign), with the new 380 partner firm now operating under the name King & Wood Mallesons. The tie-up (operating under a Swiss Verein model) has hugely boosted the firm’s Asian footprint and many believed at the time that this union was the first step towards the ultimate goal of merging with a US or UK firm. And indeed it was, as 31st July 2013 saw it announce a tie-up with UK firm SJ Berwin.
The pseudo-merger will complete on 1 November 2013, when SJ Berwin's 165 partners and 346 lawyers will be subsumed into KWM to form a mammoth 30-office firm comprising over 2,700 lawyers and headquartered in Asia. SJ Berwin has agreed to take the name "King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin" on a temporary basis, with that old-fashioned SJ Berwin bit to be dropped in due course. The arrangement is not a full merger because KWM of that Swiss Verein, meaning SJB will join as a financially independent branch of the firm alongside the existing Hong Kong, Chinese and Australian units.
KWM didn’t fare so well in RollOnFriday’s Firm of the Year survey, which placed the firm towards the bottom of the table with fairly mediocre 58% overall. The firm was roundly criticised for its lack of work life balance. Respondents complained of a “culture of extremely late nights with no recognition beyond “thank you””
and for certain departments the hours were “crap”
” But it does seem that the firm has started to make effort to at least compensate staff for the gruelling hours and “there was an eventual realisation that salaries had to go up.”
And the general consensus seemed to be that beyond the long hours the firm has a “good vibe”, “great quality work”
and “generally supportive partners.”
Overall the future looks exciting for KWM, with its blue chip client base, its market leading corporate work, and imminent merger with SJ Berwin. Watch this space to see what 2014 will bring this Asia-Pacific big beast.