King & Wood Mallesons (London)
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