King & Wood Mallesons scouting options for US merger

King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) is exploring opportunities for a US merger,The Lawyer understands.

The firm is understood to have talked to a number of US firms with a broad base in the country and could confirm a deal before the end of 2017.

A source close to the firm said it was being discussed as a possibility “intensively”.

The source suggested KWM was not approaching the elite Wall Street or Washington DC firms for a merger but instead wanted “broader coverage” across the US.

By practice area, KWM is thought to be aiming to tie-up with a firm with a strong corporate M&A and regulatory practice.

News of the merger plans come less than three years after KWM merged with SJ Berwin, giving the Asia-Pacific firm offices across the UK, Europe and Middle East.

The tie-up created a $1bn global law firm consisting of four separate partnerships.

KWM has ramped up its focus on the US in the last year, making up its first partner in the country in May, international funds lawyer Parik Dasgupta in New York.

It currently has four partners in the New York office, which it opened in 2008. The office is run by co-head of international funds George Pinkham, who relocated from KWM’s office in Hong Kong.

A number of other UK firms are understood to be in the market for a US merger this year, with speculation rife that both Linklaters and Herbert Smith Freehills have been scouting their options in the US in the first half of 2016.

No names of KWM’s target firms have yet emerged, but market sources have speculated Greenberg Traurig, Foley & Lardner and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman could be possible options.

Greenberg recently failed to merge with Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) after much-publicised talks earlier this year. Both firms were understood to be pursuing the combination in part to create a transatlantic real estate powerhouse. KWM has been realigning its EUME business this year to boost its focus on real estate led by ex-Eversheds partner William Naunton.

Foley & Lardner has also recently expressed an interest in merging in London, having called off talks with Eversheds at the end of last year, while Pillsbury is also open to expanding through a merger, having entered into talks with Chadbourne & Parke last year.

According to The Lawyer’s Global 200 there are 64 leading US firms with no presence in London.

KWM has refocused its operations in the UK, Europe and Middle East this year following two rounds of partnership and business services cuts, a number of big-hitter exits, delays to profit distributions, and the resignation of EUME managing partner William Boss and COO Rachel Reid.

The firm has not yet replaced Boss or Reid, and will not elect a new regional managing partner until the end of the year.

This year it also overhauled its strategy, restructuring its 17 practice groups into three core groups: corporate finance and funds, dispute resolution and regulation, and real estate.

The firm declined to comment.

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