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.
On the upside, it’s making plenty of money. DLA's worldwide revenue increased by almost 8% to $2.84bn in the last financial year. Revenue per lawyer was also up 7% to $766k. PEP also increased by almost 7% to $1.87m. It would have been stronger, said the firm, except for the impact of a massive malware attack in 2017.
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.
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".
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".
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".
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.
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year survey 2019, there was a "tendency towards bureaucracy and badly named management initiatives" said a senior solicitor, "perhaps due to DLA's enormous size".
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". It's "comparable if not better than other global law firms", said a non-fee-earner. "Though it's mostly spent on trying to repair the damage inflicted from a desk job (personal trainer, expensive ready-meals, therapist)".
Homegrowns are well-loved at DLA Piper, said an associate, who told RollOnFriday that 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.