Law veteran who turned DLA Piper into a global giant takes over at DWF

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Nigel Knowles — the man behind DLA’s ascent from middling Yorkshire outfit to one of the biggest firms in the world — takes over from DWF’s long serving leader Andrew Leaitherland

Sir Nigel Knowles and Andrew Leaitherland

DWF head-honcho Andrew Leaitherland has stepped down as chief executive and managing partner with immediate effect, the listed law firm announced this morning.

Leaitherland spent over 20 years at the firm and oversaw its dramatic expansion from two offices in the UK to 33 offices across four continents. The top lawyer had been CEO and managing partner since May 2006, and helped guide it through its 2019 initial public offering (IPO) — the largest in legal history.

Stepping into Leaitherland’s sizeable shoes is DWF’s chairman Sir Nigel Knowles. Boasting an equally impressive CV, Knowles is the former global co-chair of DLA Piper and the driving force behind the firm’s transition from humble Yorkshire outfit to global powerhouse.

Knowles, who, in 2009, received a knighthood in recognition of his services to the legal industry, retired in 2014, but reappeared on the legal scene at DWF in 2017.

“In responding to the challenges created by COVID-19, the board believes that strong and experienced leadership is essential,” DWF said in a statement. “The board believes that Sir Nigel Knowles, chairman, will provide this leadership and as a consequence, the board has asked Sir Nigel Knowles to assume the role of group chief executive officer with immediate effect.”

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Elsewhere in today’s announcement, DWF revealed that the financial disruption experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic had been greater than anticipated, and as a result revenues grew by circa 11% over the financial year. DWF Group’s share price fell by around 15% to 69p after today’s announcement.

Leaitherland commented:

“It has been a privilege to be Group CEO of DWF for nearly 14 years and I am incredibly proud of the progress we have made in that time. It is a fantastic business with great people committed to delivering the best possible service to our clients. I wish Sir Nigel every success in taking the business forward.”

Knowles added: “I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as the group’s chairman and even more honoured to have been asked now to lead the company as its group chief executive officer. Andrew helped build a great business for which we are very grateful and we wish him the very best.”

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Top Lawyer? hmmmmm



DWF worth a buy at 68p. Half the price it was on 7 Feb.


Bud Fox, Jackson Steinem Securities Inc.

Sounds like a good opportunity for a five point pop. I’ll be right on it Gordo, piece of cake.


Tony Elwood

Not if it’s insolvent by the Autumn…


DLA2.0 coming 2020

Is anybody going to explain or at least wildly speculate on the daggers at dawn that must have taken place to unseat somebody, seemingly over night, who is effectively a career CEO. Brutal facetime call that must have been…

What about his deal? Must be a shining golden parachute, not pegged to share price for sure.

Or the fact that DLA under Knowles basically decimated their insurance practice…which is DWF’s legacy core.


Ft reader

What golden parachute? Seems like he got contractual notice.

According to the FT he gets 12 months salary and that is his lot, even then he has to be applying for jobs as if he was on the dole. Though he got a load of cash on the IPO so dont feel too sorry if he loses some of his unvested shares.



If Knowles turns DWF into what DLA is now, obviously it’s a great move.

Not sure I’d be betting that a 64 year old with millions already banked has the desire to do it all again at a brand new firm with the added complication of investors.



Agreed, this is a cushty shift for Knowles before he pops on his slippers and vanishes into retirement. The big question is why did they decide to knife Andy Leatherpants now and not later/earlier?


Watching bird

64 or not, this is his life’s work. Knowles wanted DLA to float and when the partnership moved instead to merge with Piper, that was the end of his clout. You can’t push an agenda so hard, lose and remain in control. He retired.

Leaitherland basically ressurected him, full on ‘The Mummy’ style. He made his mentor chairman and gave him a mandate to support him. He’s pulled the strings and had him dance through an IPO. Then he has masterfully used the obscene inefficienies within DWF combined with Covid and the increased control he’s had through a couple of years of hiring in his DLA buddies to take over.

Almost any law firm board in the world would appoint him at the moment. Not only has he done it all he’s been around dwf for a couple of years. Having put Leitherland out to pasture he will butcher the place, streamline and relaunch it in the manner he knows. He will retire at 68 or so handing over to some DLA buddy. Either that or he will merge them…with DLA (somehow).

Brutal but true and what he will want to do.


Ghost of Christmas Past

Seriously? He should hang up his boots gracefully.

Oh and this is what the Law Society Gazette quoted Sir Nigel to have said back in 2011 on the subject of Law Firm ABS structures:

“Listing for us [DLA] would be far too complicated and we would not be giving the partners of tomorrow the same future. We’d be accused of selling the family silver. Even though it would be good for one or two of us personally, it would be wrong for the business.’



Let the fee earner bleed begin – reported this morning that AG already picked up a partner. I wonder how many will breach the reported 5-year lock in for the IPO.

Not sure a personnel change now will solve the mountains of debt, focus on practice areas with single digit profit margins, and shockingly low morale. I don’t think the market needs another big firm collapse, but it is going to be a rough Q3 and Q4 for DWF. Hope they make it.



Surely the CFO is the one who should take some of this blame – not good enough for plc world or before that so it seems? Wonder how he’s still there after all this time ???


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