DLA Piper’s growing gains

DLA Piper’s growing gains” />There is a glimmer of hope for DLA Piper associates who fancy a stab at partnership. The firm with the tightest equity in the City appears to have had a change of heart.

For the first time ever the non-US side of DLA Piper – Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea) – has made up a double-digit number of partners into its equity. The move amounts to a clear signal that joint chief executive officer Nigel Knowles is considering loosening the iron grip on the top tier of partnership, which last year meant only 29 per cent of the firm’s partners were full equity.

It is also a sign that the firm’s roughly one-third to two-thirds ratio between equity partners and non-equity partners will change over the next few years.

DLA Piper’s Emea practice currently has 555 partners. The firm has just made up 66 partners globally, of which 28 were in Emea. Significantly, more than half of these, 18, have joined the equity.

The firm has also completed the integration of the partners in DLA Nordic, a deal that brought a further 10 partners into the equity. That takes the firm’s total number of equity partners to a little more than 180.

A word of caution if you happen to belong to the firm’s legion of assistants: don’t get too excited and start buying the champers yet.

This is the classic evolution, not revolution. Knowles is not about to tear apart the business model that has served him so well over the past few years. Even with the new promotions, DLA Piper’s equity partners represent just 32 per cent of the total partnership. But it’s a start. And what it suggests is that the growing maturity and increasing credibility of DLA Piper’s business is not only attracting better quality laterals, it’s also bringing through better quality trainees and assistants.

As Knowles puts it: “We’ve only promoted people who we believe can jump the hurdle to meet the standards for equity in our firm. We’ve recruited better and trained better. In my view, I suspect the percentage of equity partners will slowly start to creep up.”

In other words, the firm could have promoted a lot more partners into the equity, but was only prepared to do that when Knowles and co were convinced they could jump the hurdle.

As the firm has grown, the pool of talent from which it can draw has grown with it. By the looks of it, it’s got quite a few decent hurdlers among them.