DLA shake-up: Knowles to become chair, Angel to step down next year

DLA Piper is set for a leadership shake-up as co-CEO Nigel Knowles is to replace Tony Angel as global co-chairman and London IP partner Simon Levine is appointed as the firm’s next joint CEO.

Joining Knowles on the US side as global co-chair is Roger Meltzer, who is currently Americas co-chair and leader of the corporate and finance practice, while Meltzer’s colleague as Americas co-chair Jay Rains will become the joint global CEO alongside Levine. All the moves, which are subject to a partner consultation this year and a vote in September, will be effective from 1 May 2015. Angel will continue as senior partner of the international firm.

Partners were told of the changes via a video blog at 2pm today (4 February 2014).

Knowles told The Lawyer that he was excited at stepping into an outward facing role He said: “I’m going to concentrate more on clients and sectors, the brand, and maintaining the culture of the firm.”

Angel said: “Managing the leadership succession is an important part of what I’ve been doing.”

Angel joined DLA Piper in October 2011(26 October 2011). In a video interview with The Lawyer last year (3 September 2013), he said: “There are many areas of the world where we’re not present and if you want to be a global firm with the aspirations we have, servicing your clients across a range of practices around the full range of their operations, then we will need to be in a lot more places and a lot stronger in a number of our practices.”

The news that Angel will serve only one term as co-chair will come as a surprise to many in the firm. His arrival at DLA Piper three years ago was a trophy hire by the global firm, but there has been considerable speculation as to how he and Knowles would negotiate their management relationship (13 February 2012).

Knowles said: “I’m pleased that Tony joined in 2011 as we needed that capacity and rigour to move the firm on. Tony is proudly building his legacy within the firm.”

During his time at the firm Angel has seen a significant reshaping of the firm. In April 2012, the firm instigated its second management revamp in as many years naming Andrew Darwin as UK managing partner and reforming its year-old executive management team (12 April 2012). He followed that in June with a root and branch review of the whole firm (1 June 2012).

The move resulted in DLA putting 251 staff into consultation in one of the biggest rounds of redundancies to date (13 November 2012). The firm also closed its Glasgow office, where it had 10 partners, and sought to offload its defendant insurance teams, with Hill Dickinson (28 January 2013) and Mills & Reeve benefitting from the move (18 June 2013).

Simon Levine, meanwhile, joined DLA Piper 10 years ago from Dentons, where he led a mass defection of 11 TMT partners – the largest lateral move ever in the London market (4 October 2004). His appointment as joint chief executive represents a significant generational shift at the global firm.

Levine told The Lawyer: “It’s an honour to be asked to do this.”

Knowles, 57, has been at DLA Piper for his entire career. He joined the legacy Sheffield office in 1978 as a trainee and by the early 1990s had risen to become head of corporate. In 1996 he became managing partner of what was then Dibb Lupton, and the same year merged with Alsop Wilkinson, a move that gave the then-Yorkshire-heavy firm a serious London presence with a finance capability.   

In late December 2004 he led DLA into a transatlantic merger with Chicago’s Piper Rudnick and Californian firm Gray Cary Ware & Friedenrich (6 December 2004). The firm is now the biggest firm in the world.

In January 2009 Knowles was knighted for services to the legal sector. He told The Lawyer at the time: “I wouldn’t say I was known for my technical knowledge of the law. I always thought like a businessman, which is why I enjoyed ­management.”

In 2012 DLA turned over £1.55bn. In May that year the firm switched to an all-equity partnership, leading to a £28.1m cash injection from partners in the international LLP. As The Lawyer reported in July 2012, the move was made to align the firm with the US side of the business, and to “take away artificial barriers to earning” according to Knowles (30 July 2012).

However, Knowles was plunged into controversy after the firm took a collective stake of £62,500 in ABS LawVest (28 October 2011) and after a group of partners made personal investments in the vehicle without having disclosed the move to the wider partnership (27 February 2012).