There is an appealing narrative to DLA Piper’s fifth-place position, pitting the firm as the magic circle’s aggressive, upstart neighbour.
Turnover (£m): 604.9
Average PEP: 564
Equity spread (£k): 225-1,700
Profit margin (%): 19
RPL (£k): 277
That said, DLA Piper’s’s financial performance for 2010-11, although not spectacular, shows no reason for concern. Its international LLP turnover, which excludes the firm’s US operations, was up by 4.1 per cent, from £581m in 2009-10 to £604.9m. Profit was up by 13 per cent over the same period, from £99.8m to £113m, leading to an increase in the profit margin of 2 per cent. But at 19 per cent, this is still comparatively low.
DLA Piper joint chief executive and managing partner Sir Nigel Knowles has been managing partner since 1996 and has engineered the firm’s growth from a regional player to a global juggernaut. Unsurprisingly, Knowles holds almost all the sway at the firm.
If he likes an idea it gets pushed through; if not, it doesn’t happen. This management style can cause friction and is a subtext to the departures of several big names during the year, including those of real estate consultant David Taylor, Emea private equity chief Will Rosen and joint global head of litigation Neil Gerrard.
But it looks as if Knowles is beginning to spread some of his power. After a strategic review the firm formed an executive management team on 1 May comprising Knowles, chief financial officer Paul Edwards and four managing directors – Andrew Darwin, David Bradley, Alastair Da Costa and Ulrich Jüngst – who report to Knowles.
DLA Piper is mulling a change to its partnership structure, with an all-equity model under discussion. An outcome is expected in the next 12-18 months. Such a change would be seismic for a firm with such a tight partnership, but it still does not address critics’ broadsides against DLA Piper for inequality – the firm has one of the largest gaps between top and bottom of equity of any firm, £1,47m.
Still, it is hard to knock Knowles’ delivery as managing partner, and if anyone has a clear vision for their firm, he has.