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Not so long ago a certain law firm chief balked when comparisons were drawn between his firm and DLA Piper.
He believed he’d just pulled off the most transformational merger ever, and the idea that he was being accused of ’doing a DLA’ was nothing short of derisory.
He must have choked on his tea last week, then, when we revealed that DLA had only gone and scooped the man credited with writing modern-day Linklaters’ success story. In case you missed it, Tony Angel is set to join DLA within days, playing Tango to Nigel Knowles’s Cash. We assume the partner vote is a formality.
It’s a stunning move, certainly, but the hire is not without its detractors. A brief stint as a non-exec at SJ Berwin aside, the main concern is that Angel has been out of the game too long to be of any real use to DLA.
The point is a moot one. The idea that a man who was revered across the profession could have lost his touch within four years of retiring from Linklaters betrays a peculiarly British obsession with putting retirees out to pasture. Unless the contents of his mind were erased on the day he handed in his Silk Street pass, there’s a sporting chance that Angel has retained the knowledge and experience that earned him the respect of his peers.
The challenge for DLA will not be to introduce a relic to the ways of the modern world, but to avoid spontaneous combustion, what with two bruisers used to be being top dog at the head of its non-US business. Regardless of how much he hero-worships Angel, sharing the tiller isn’t going to be easy for Sir Nige.
But then Knowles has never been afraid of a challenge - that’s the beauty of DLA. It takes a brave manager to risk all on a game-changing deal, but it’s what they do afterwards that really counts.
In a week when two new firms are born - DAC Beachcroft and the enlarged Clyde & Co - and with even Slaughters considering a spot of northshoring, public displays of risk appetite have never been more fashionable. It’s no coincidence, then, that DLA has taken a stake in ABS-in-waiting LawVest, with Knowles as its non-executive chairman.