MALLESONS Stephen Jaques is discussing a strategic alliance with a leading Chinese law firm KIng & Wood.
The talks, first reported by Bloomberg this morning, have been confirmed by sources at both firms.
Robert Milliner, Mallesons' Sydney-based chief executive partner, said in an email obtained by The Asian Lawyer that the firm had been exploring a number of possible alliances with firms around the world as part of a broader internationalization strategy. "We have spoken to King & Wood as one of a number of Asian firms," he said.
"However, we continue to review the best option for the long term future success of our firm."
Beijing-based King & Wood said discussions between the firms had been "on-again, off-again" over the past several months. "Right now, they're on again," he told The Asian Lawyer.
The proposed move underscores the growing integration of the Australian and Chinese economies.
Chinese investment in Australia has fed a boom in natural resources. British law firms have been eager to capture that work, and Clifford Chance, Norton Rose and Allen & Overy have all opened offices here.
King & Wood is reported to also be interested in doing work for Chinese clients looking for investments in Australia.
King & Wood has an existing relationship with Gilbert + Tobin, but it is understood this would be superseded by a Mallesons deal.
Both Mallesons and King & Wood have around 1,000 lawyers, and Mallesons has built a substantial China practice in recent years, with offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai.
King & Wood told The Asian Lawyer that the possibility of a deal between the two firms range from a simple "best friends" referral agreement to a potentially more controversial pooling of resources into a financially separate entity operating in China under a Swiss Verein structure.
This structure could also allow King & Wood and Mallesons to operate jointly in China, despite official restrictions barring foreign law firms from practicing Chinese law.