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 old CEO even bagged a knighthood in the 2009 New Year’s Honours List. Whether you like it or not, DLA Piper is 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 Sutherland: it may be everywhere, but it’s not necessarily at the top of the tree anywhere.
On the upside, it’s making plenty of money, and 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.
One NQ said the "global offering" means international secondment opportunities "are abundant". Although another said, "It has offices everywhere - there's just no budget to visit them".
Its London office waved goodbye to the outdated decor (no more "horrid curtains") and open plan "wasn't the disaster many of us expected" - people "are largely respectful save for one team which continues to use public spaces on an open plan floor for loud (and unnecessary) Thursday afternoon gatherings". And even then, "at least they all seem to like each other". New offices "are being rolled out all across the UK", said staff, and London even had a hydroponic kitchen garden, although, "You can lose a year of your life in the time it takes to travel two floors in the lifts").
Insiders also liked being part of such an ambitious firm, and praised its "speed of change and forward thinking approach". It also won points for being "genuinely a very friendly firm to work at", with "great people to work with".
And the downsides? A fairly common complaint was that there's "no chance of making partner," unless you came at it sideways: "they consistently favour external candidates over internal".
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.
The pay outside London "is good compared to the region (probably the highest)", said one solicitor, "which is nice". However, "it's a clear £30k between us and London which sometimes feels a little off given we're billed at the same rates as our southern colleagues".
Other associates in the regions took a more sanguine outlook. A junior lawyer said, "I'm in a regional office - we have the usual complaint around the fact that we are paid circa £30k less than our big city colleagues", but "given the size of my car/house/garden compared to my London colleagues of the same PQE I'm fairly content".
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey, a senior solicitor said there was a "tendency towards bureaucracy and badly named management initiatives, perhaps due to DLA's enormous size".
However, there were "Very few genuine arseholes in positions of power" according to a senior lawyer, who said he asked a head of department if a partner would now be shown the door in the event that a verifiable metoo incident occurred: "Potentially naive of me, but I believed him when he said 'yes'."
Homegrowns are well-loved at DLA Piper, said an associate, and even lawyers returning to the firm "are welcomed back with a weird (if not cult-ish) level of delight. One of us, one of us..."
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.
RollOnFriday Best Law Firms to Work At: DLA Piper’s scores
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