The tale of how DLA Piper rose from a 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 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. One rookie reports: “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 reveals that: “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 revealed that “the corporate and finance departments can tend to get quite busy”.
A major selling point of DLA are the international secondments, of which there are “plenty of opportunities”. Around a third of trainees have spent time abroad with the firm in locations including Dubai, Moscow, Sydney, Singapore and Hong Kong. With 90 offices in over 40 countries there is no shortage of choice.
However, there was discontent last year over DLA’s decision to scrap its policy of paying London and regional trainees equal salaries while on secondment abroad.
A multitude of client secondments were also up for grabs with trainees working with clients including IHG, The Royal Bank of Scotland and the Premier League.
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.
DLA has had a string of consistently good financial results, and 2018/19 is no exception, with global revenue rising 8% to $2.84 billion (£2.2 million) and global net profit up 6% to $751 million (£594 million). The total lawyer headcount also increased slightly to 3,702.
DLA has also bounced back well from the massive cyber attack it suffered in 2017, which saw the firm’s email and phone system knocked out for days.
In previous years, trainees complained about “basic” IT provision and “laptops from the mid 90s”, but now much has changed. An insider reports that there had been “a roll out of new technology across the office and all fee earners (including trainees) and most business support staff now have swanky new laptops (which also double up as tablets, complete with stylus), two monitors, and noise cancelling, wireless headphones.”
Another reports that “there are always new initiatives being implemented” but it is often “up to you to do the training and start using” the new tech.
The firm moved to a new London office last year which was no let down. The new base is “10/10” and “very impressive”. It comes with a “brand new canteen” however the “food is too expensive”.