This article was first published in ALB Insights, a weekly, ad-free premium newsletter that provides analysis and opinions related to the important news and trends in Asia’s fast-growing legal markets. Featuring a mix of features, Q&As with key figures, and profiles of some of the hottest firms and service providers, Insights will available only to paid subscribers at the end of its free trial period.

To subscribe to Insights, please email


On March 1, 2012, a hitherto unthinkable merger came to fruition. One of China’s Red Circle law firms merged with one of Australia’s biggest outfits, and King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) was born. The first-of-its kind combination raised eyebrows as many felt the firms were too culturally dissimilar, and a few industry watchers even wondered how long it would last.

Five years on, not only is the merged firm still around, but it also has a number of accomplishments to brag about. But it is also true that KWM had its fair share of crises, such as the financial problems that plagued its European arm in the latter half of 2016. There were also failed attempts at other tie-ups: In 2013, a merger with Singapore’s WongPartnership was called off literally days before it was supposed to be announced, according to media reports.

Overall, however, the KWM story has been a story of success. Last year, for example, it was ranked as the top legal brand in Asia by the Acritas Asia-Pacific Law Firm Brand Index. And with more than 1,000 lawyers in the region, KWM is the eighth-largest domestic law firm in Asia, according to the ALB Top 50. The firm’s accomplishments also include growth in revenue and referrals across Australia, China and Hong Kong as well as a new office in Singapore.

KWM’s push for global integration notably included cultural integration, but it wasn’t always easy. “Integration requires hard work, patience, persistence and perseverance,” said a spokesperson for the firm. “To develop genuine relationships with each other takes time and commitment.” Among the lessons learnt by the firm in its first five years was “the importance of shared values, a shared vision and clear direction.”


KWM stressed that despite the short timeline, there was “nothing unusual” in terms of the challenges it faced during the merger. “While the differences between our nations, our cultures and our legacy firms exist, as individuals we are striving for the same thing – to do great work for great clients with great people. Our values are very similar,” said the spokesperson. That said, the firm “learned some valuable lessons on multi-lingual systems that will come in handy in the future.”

A vital factor in the smooth transition was the Hong Kong office, where both the legacy firms had a presence prior to the integration. As the spokesperson pointed out, “From the outset, all staff benefits and entitlements were aligned to reflect what the best fit was for the Hong Kong market, instead of KWM simply looking at it from a legacy firm approach.”

As the firm’s network grows, the Hong Kong factor remains critical in integrating the KWM brand. At a partner level, there are regular gatherings of partners at a management, practice and social level, which has resulted in collaboration across practices and associated client engagement. 

Looking ahead to the next five years, KWM says it remains focused on cementing its position as the leading international firm in Asia. “Our global strategy will be client-driven. It will be based on how we can best support our clients in Asia as they do business offshore as well as our international clients as they do business in Asia,” said the spokesperson.

Related Articles

SG: Greenberg lures over KWM South/Southeast Asia M&A head

by Nimitt Dixit |

U.S. law firm Greenberg Traurig has added another shareholder to its recently launched Singapore office after hiring Jake Robson to co-lead the office and head its South and Southeast Asia M&A practice. Robson joins from King & Wood Mallesons, where he held a similar role.

5 firms act on $5.9 bln Japan-Australia chip industry deal

by Mari Iwata |

DLA Piper, Covington & Burling and Nagashima Ohno & Tsunematsu are advising Japanese automotive chipmaker Renesas on its planned A$9.1 billion ($5.9 billion) acquisition of Australian electronics design firm Altium, which is being represented by King & Wood Mallesons and Reed Smith.

KWM China signs exclusive client referral deal with Eversheds Sutherland

by Nimitt Dixit |

King & Wood Mallesons China and Eversheds Sutherland said jointly on Thursday that they have entered a formal agreement to refer work to one another exclusively in key markets, with Eversheds gaining access to mainland China and KWM China ceasing operations in Europe and East Asia.