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Just when you think Nigel Knowles had gone quiet for a couple of weeks, back he comes with yet another grand gesture. As we revealed yesterday on www… lala la, the DLA managing partner is about to pull off the biggest team move ever in the legal sector by taking on a 40-lawyer team from Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS).
Yes, you read that right. Eleven partners and up to 30 other lawyers – almost the entire technology, media and telecoms (TMT) team – are set to resign from DWS.
The extraordinary thing is not just the size of the move, but its symbolism. The TMT practice was the backbone of the old Denton Hall, but the word is that these eleven partners were feeling unloved by central management. It’s too early to tell how this will affect DWS’s current management election, but judging by the salty comments we’ve heard from inside the firm, the mass defection won’t help Virginia Glastonbury’s bid for a second term.
Yet by prioritising – or appearing to prioritise – higher-value transactional work over the commercial and IP business, DWS is doing nothing different from most other large law firms. The higher up the City food chain firms go, the more neglected the IP lawyers feel. Clifford Chance’s recent unrest in its TMT team is a classic example.
DLA, on the other hand, is a business predicated on unfashionable commercial services: property, IP, employment, regulatory – hence its continued appetite for recruiting. While rivals have tried to keep headcount down, DLA has been hugely acquisitive. (That must be rather good news for Knowles’ favourite headhunters Fox Rodney, who could probably retire on the proceeds by now.)
This is a warning to those law firms obsessed with transactional work: give your commercial teams some love, or they’ll leave en masse.