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UK City Firms

King & Wood Mallesons (London)

Our view...

KWM SJB was until July 2013 known as SJ Berwin, and as the younger sister to Berwin Leighton Paisner (born in 1982 and 1970 respectively - the rivalry between the two firms was legendary). Ever aggressive, SJB was the first of the City firms to announce the significant increase in junior lawyers' salaries in May 2000. The other big players had no choice but to follow suit, with Clifford Chance upping the stakes still further. If you are an assistant at another big firm you should be thanking legacy SJB (and if you are a partner you will no doubt be cursing it) - these were the guys who made the market in NQ salaries what it is today.

This was typical of SJ Berwin's style, a style which may have won round clients but often repelled other lawyers, particularly those at its larger, older rivals. SJ Berwin shrugged this off as sour grapes against a new kid on the block whose practice was putting many more established firms to shame.

Legacy SJ Berwin had a reputation for red braces, power breakfasts, aggression and long hours. It appeared to be justified. In recent years, news reached RollOnFriday of low morale throughout, associates vanishing in the night, "terrible internal communications" and partners lacking in common civility ("I understand Blur based the song "Charmless man" on them").

Overseas expansion was a moveable feast. The firm merged with its German arm (full of handsome men, we hear) a few years back (the niftily named SJ Berwin Knopf Tulloch Steininger). Then the firm attempted a US merger with several shops - Mayer Brown, Proskauer and Orrick all came to naught.

But the firm finally saw success in July 2013 via a merger with Asia Pacific powerhouse King Wood Mallesons, which completed in November. At the cost of sacrificing its name and possibly its culture, SJB got global reach. That grinding sound you hear is Stanley Berwin turning in his grave...

In the short term staff reported, "a real buzz about the combination". Two years on in 2015, there were reports that the merger "seems to be working". An NQ said the firm had an "interesting future ahead of it". In terms of real change, "I'm off to Aus on secondment", said a senior associate. Of course there was a downside: a 1PQE said the merger, "means my sleep time has diminished drastically (what with speaking to Chinese colleagues in the wee hours of the morning and having conference calls with American clients at night)".

Some sounded a note of caution in 2016. A "difficult period of change", said one, clarifying that it "feels like some of the management don't know what is going on". Since the merger, said another, "there has been a strong China inbound/outbound focus, which is not to everyone's taste..."

There were some signs that partners may finally have realised that the steady stream of departures and toxic reputation weren't a great ad. Though not spectacular, 2015 and 2016's RollOnFriday Firm of the Year results were an improvement on recent years'. According to one junior associate, some of the partner exits helped: most of the "knobs that were responsible for the firm's aggressive reputation have left (yay!)".

In the 2016 survey, a 3PQE said it was "actually jolly nice: jolly nice building, partners, people, atmosphere. Even Marketing know what they are doing. Nothing stellar though - just jolly nice." A starry-eyed senior associate said, "It's all about the people, and the people are great. Ignore the gossip, this is a strong firm with strong core beliefs, a good support network and aspirations which everyone is included in and will build together." Before hoisting a flag to the firm and tattooing KWM on their bicep.

A 3PQE reassured that, "Most people at the more junior end are normal", while a 1PQE said, "The SJB name may have gone, but the best bits of the culture remain - work hard, and play hard (normally in the delightful retreats of The Banker or Core Bar)."

The classy office building overlooking the Thames, all glass and dark wood, is always singled out for praise. Particularly the "excellent roof terrace". Although in 2016, it was getting "increasingly cramped given the sub-letting", apparently. The firm, said another, had "filled the building up with tenants who dress like hobos, meaning it's overcapacity, so 1st seat trainees are likely to qualify before they can actually get in a lift at peak time".

The work is undoubtedly excellent. The corporate practice at KWM is everything you would expect it to be - hard, fast and client-focussed - and while the firm took one hell of a kicking in the downturn (i.e. death) in private equity work, it's picked up since with the firm having acted for Apax and 3i, amongst others. Despite the added bonus of "two top quality table football tables" in the department, it's here that you can expect one hell of a beasting and where we hear the odd rumble of discontent. Those partners have to keep their half million PEP up somehow, you know.

Corporate aside, there's real estate work a-plenty, and the firm recently worked for British Land on the development of London's latest oddly-named landmark, the Cheesegrater On the development side, NQs says there's a "good support network" for juniors and a "commitment to training". In 2016, an newly-qualified said, "There seems to be an increased push on career development, especially for juniors with NQs getting some external career coaching, which is nice!"  

We reckon it's a good bet for thrusting young things who want to get their hands dirty (with work, that is). And you get a free lunch. Nice.

For more information on KWM click here
For more information on King & Wood Mallesons click here


Salary (1st seat trainee): £40,000
Salary (NQ): £64,000
Salary (1PQE): £68,000
Salary (2PQE): £80,000
Salary (3PQE): £87,000
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme: Yes
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: %
- 1PQE: %
- 2PQE: %
- 3PQE: %
- 4PQE: %
- 5PQE: %
- Partner: %


Grant for GDL: £7,250
Grant for LPC: £7,250
Training places per year: 37
% of trainees retained: 76%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 59%
Development: 62%
Work/Life: 59%
Openness: 55%
Biscuits: 75%
Toilets: 60%
Social: 64%
Firm of the year overall score: 62%


Holiday allowance: 25 - 30
Flexi holiday: No
Pension: Contributory 5%
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: 6 months full pay. Paternity 5 days paid, up to 13 weeks unpaid
Target hours: 1700
Childcare vouchers: Yes
Gym: Subsidised
Restaurant: Yes
24 hour photocopying support: Yes
24 hour secretarial support: Yes
Other: Free lunch in dining room every day, free dinner after 8pm.


Your Views

Feel free to enter your comments on the news story below, subject to our terms and conditions. Please note that comments are subject to moderation and so will not appear immediately.

Please keep it nice. Thanks.

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anonymous user
11/05/2012 16:58
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Why do you persist in putting a vastly inflated salary level for 2pqe solicitors at SJB? £80k??? It is nowhere even close to this figure!
anonymous user
10/08/2012 10:29
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NQ is actually at 60k.
anonymous user
22/04/2013 11:22
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This is really out of date! A 3yr PQE is NOT at £87k!! That's what a 5 yr PQE is on ...
anonymous user
19/09/2013 13:41
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1st seat trainees are actually on £37.5k
anonymous user
02/04/2014 18:53
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Come on ROF, check your facts - salaries have never been at those levels at SJB! NQs hover around £60k, 1PQE £62-65k, 2PQE £65-70k, 3PQE £70-75k (if they're lucky). And that, friends, is one of the main reasons US firms are so successful at poaching mid tier UK City folk. The only exception is Funds where the associates who didn't jump ship were extremely well-rewarded for their loyalty.
anonymous user
09/09/2016 12:44
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What is the current 2pqe pay at KWM?