The tale of how DLA Piper rose from humble regional outfit in Sheffield to become, via a series of bold mergers, one of the world’s top three biggest law firms is one of the great business stories of recent times.
Inevitably the success has bred some snarkiness, with the now ubiquitous DLA sometimes referred to as the ‘Coca-Cola of the legal world’. But even the firm’s harshest critics concede that its dizzying growth over the last two decades has in general been remarkably well-consolidated. Particularly impressive is the way that the firm has managed to carve out, simultaneously, a reputation for high-end legal expertise and volume work prowess.
In the UK, the firm is led from London with further offices in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield and London – and structured similarly to other national firms. Those in the capital earn more (see below) but an effort is made to apportion quality work as evenly as possible.
Admin-level tasks are sent to the firm’s paralegal-staffed ‘Legal Delivery Centre’ in Leeds, which may be related to DLA’s A-grade for training in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18. Reports one rookie: “We get very strong training internally and externally with both technical seat specific matters being covered and general legal skills.”
A reasonably tight trainee cohort adds to the student appeal. One insider describes it thus: “Everyone gets on pretty well, no major falling out, everyone was genuinely pleased for those who got NQ offers and upset for those that didn’t.”
Work/life balance is not bad. Reports another trainee: “Apart from a few hellish weeks, my normal hours are 9ish to 6/6.30ish (although others haven’t been so lucky)!”
Another selling point is its international secondments: nearly 30% of trainees have spent time abroad with the firm in locations including Dubai, Moscow, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong. Meanwhile, 17% have done client secondments.
Less impressive are the perks, which include all the law firm staples such as private medical insurance but not a huge amount more. “What perks?” grumbles one rookie, “Somewhat concerningly for a global law firm, the firm only managed to negotiate a paltry £8 off the standard price of a gym membership… And that’s probably the best perk!” Worse, the coffee machines are said to “put chunks of soup into your drink”. The culinary situation is rescued by free breakfasts in the canteen before 9:30am.
However, there is widespread contentment at a recent pay rise for London newly qualified (NQ) solicitors to £75,000. A simultaneous raise for regional NQs has seen their remuneration move up by a grand to £42,000.
DLA Piper made the headlines for the wrong reasons this year after it was hit by a massive cyber attack, which saw the firm’s email and phone system knocked out for days. It came at a time when efforts were being made to boost DLA’s tech-savvy, with the firm having embraced Skype for phonecalls and invested in new laptops for mobile working. Clearly there is more work to be done. Last year trainees complained to us about the “basic” IT provision and “laptops from the mid 90s”; while although insiders have noted progress in this year’s Legal Cheek survey there are continued calls for an IT “revamp”.
Ultimately, though, there’s an acceptance that DLA was more the victim of bad luck than anything else. And while it may take a short term reputational hit, the firm’s huge presence – it’s one of the largest in the world, with 90 offices in over 40 countries – will surely see it shake off this setback.