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UK City Firms

DLA Piper (London)

Our view...

When Dibb Lupton Broomhead and Alsops merged in the nineties most City firms barely raised an eyebrow. How times have changed. DLA Piper has expanded relentlessly - in 2003 its stated aim was to be a top five full-service European law firm. Then in 2005 it pulled off two mergers with the US's Piper Rudnick and Gray Cary creating the third biggest law firm in the world, now employing over 3,700 lawyers, in 80 offices, across 30 countries. Its merger with Australian firm DLA Phillips Fox made it the world's largest firm by head count. Its CEO even bagged a knighthood in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List. Whether you like it or not, DLA Piper is now as ubiquitous as McDonalds. And as tasty as Marmite.
The ubiquity isn't necessarily a good thing. The firm suffers from the same problem as arch-competitor Eversheds: it may be everywhere, but it’s not really at the top of its tree anywhere. One associate said last year, "one word sums up DLA Piper – average". Possibly unsurprising given the firm’s treatment of its associates – in 2010 it effectively cut salaries whilst bumping up target hours. A couple of years ago DLA parachuted in ex-Linklaters supremo Tony Angel, famed for his rather ruthless pursuit of the leaner, profit-making law firm model. Inevitably redundancies followed: in November 2012 the firm announced a consultation with 251 fee-earner and non fee-earner roles across the UK offices. The firm's Glasgow office was then chopped entirely. In 2014, 260 more lawyers were shed.

On the upside, it’s making plenty of money, the firm has enticed a number of lateral hires and offices have been launched in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Mexico City. One NQ says the "global offering" means international secondment opportunities "are abundant". Although another says, "It has offices everywhere - there's just no budget to visit them".
The firm represents more than 140 of the top 250 Fortune 500 clients and nearly half of the FTSE 350 or their subsidiaries. That's pretty solid going by any measure.

Its London office (despite its "horrid curtains" and the fact "You can lose a year of your life in the time it takes to travel two floors in the lifts") has long been considered the best of any national firm, although it still doesn’t compare to traditional City firms like Ashurst or Macfarlanes. Insiders also like being part of such an ambitious firm, and praise its "speed of change and forward thinking approach". It also wins points for being "genuinely a very friendly firm to work at", with "great people to work with". We're also told that there's a "lot of empathy amongst fee earners", although this revelation was somwhat tempered by the conclusion that this was because they all "feel they lost out in life's lottery and most of whom spend at least half an hour every day in the toilets sobbing quietly." That was a couple of years ago, though - respondents in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2016 survey are silent as to any sobbing.
And the downsides? A fairly common complaint is that there's "no chance of making partner," unless you come at it sideways: "they consistently favour external candidates over internal". Until very recently only a third of the partnership held full equity. Remuneration at the top may have been staggering, but unless your name began with Sir Nigel and ended in Knowles you wouldn't get a sniff of the uber bucks. Now the partnership is being moved to full-equity. But at a cost, as all partners were asked to cough up capital contributions.
Also, bear in mind that the figures on the right apply only to London - you'll be on an awful lot less outside the capital. Many regional associates grumble that "Solicitors in the regions get shafted for pay," asserting that a London NQ gets more than a 5PQE solicitor in Leeds. Following a review in 2008, banding was jettisoned in favour of pay increases based on individual performance of up to 8%. This led to huge uncertainty, compounded by confusion over bonuses. One junior associate said, "the bonus scheme is regarded as a bit of a joke" and another described it as "ridiculous. It's totally unachievable, and not worth sacrificing your life for.

In the 2015 survey, senior associates said that salaries "are not reflective of how the firm views itself, particularly outside of London", and that they are "not seen as being commensurate with effort or expectation regarding performance". On the other hand, several fee-earners pointed to a decent work/life balance - "if you are savvy".

In the 2016 survey, gripes included "Working 78 hour weeks (regularly)", and annoyance that "the global board may be able to manage effectively, but the partners in the office certainly can't".  Though there are "Good sweets" in the meeting rooms, "decent coffee" in the cafe and "fresh milk in the kitchen on every floor". Also, the name "can be made into funny puns e.g. lets get DLAid tonight". Hmm.

The firm may not be for everyone, but overall there’s no denying its meteoric rise. Once upon a time DLA Piper said that it would look to float - RoF would certainly be tempted to buy a few shares. And beyond the cash alone, there are plenty of reports of good friendships, great social activities and - for a massive firm - a decent work-life balance.
For more information on DLA Piper click here


Salary (1st seat trainee): £42,000
Salary (NQ): £70,000
Salary (1PQE): £72,000
Salary (2PQE): £77,000
Salary (3PQE): £85,000
Salary (Salaried partner):

Bonus Scheme

Bonus scheme: Yes
Typical bonus as % of salary
- NQ: %
- 1PQE: %
- 2PQE: %
- 3PQE: %
- 4PQE: %
- 5PQE: %
- Partner: %


Grant for GDL: £7,000
Grant for LPC: £7,000
Training places per year: 85
% of trainees retained: 74%

RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Scores

Salary: 56%
Development: 62%
Work/Life: 57%
Openness: 53%
Biscuits: 72%
Toilets: 69%
Social: 64%
Firm of the year overall score: 60%


Holiday allowance: 25
Flexi holiday: No
Pension: Contributory 6% - 8%
Healthcare: Yes
Maternity policy: 18 weeks, up to 40 weeks once 2 years' service. 5 days paternity leave.
Target hours: 1500
Childcare vouchers: No
Gym: Subsidised
Restaurant: Yes
24 hour photocopying support: Yes
24 hour secretarial support: Yes
Other: Service leave scheme - up to ten days extra holiday can be earned over three years. Concierge service.


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Your Views

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Please keep it nice. Thanks.

anonymous user
12/05/2012 22:34
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Please update. DLA are moving to a full equity partnership structure.