This month DLA Piper’s UK country head Andrew Darwin will begin his new role as Australia managing partner, a position he is expecting to occupy for two years.
Darwin’s relocation follows a series partner departures in Australia. Around this time last year DLA Piper transferred London partner Bob Charlton to Hong Kong, to take over the Asia managing director role from predecessor Alastair Da Costa. In Singapore, following the firm’s second unsuccessful application for a qualifying foreign law practice (QFLP), it has elected Singapore litigation head John Goulios as local managing partner, taking over from IP/IT partner Matthew Glynn. The changes indicate another regional shake-up.
As part of the present review the firm has laid off six fee-earners in the capital markets team in Hong Kong and a number of supporting role across the region. According to sources close to the firm, more job cuts in Hong Kong are expected.
The latest adjustments, although not through a formal redundancy programme, have echoes of the firm’s 2009 redundancy round in Asia that cut 20 associates and 34 support staff across Asia.
According to the firm’s international LLP filings the 2008/09 financial year was all but flat in Asia, where revenue grew by a mere 2 per cent. The 2009 restructuring of its business in the region, however, had a positive impact on its top line the following year, with Asia turnover increasing by 13 per cent to £58.1m in 2009/10.
On the surface, the firm’s Asia Pacific turnover in 2011/12 grew by a staggering 231 per cent, to £202.3m, but most of the surplus was due to the full merger between DLA Piper and its Australian alliance DLA Phillips Fox in May 2011.
Prior to the merger the combined 2010/11 revenue of DLA Phillips Fox (£140m) and DLA Piper’s Asia offices (£61m) already stood at £201m. Therefore, the like-for-like growth of its enlarged Asia Pacific practice appeared to stall.
The firm’s Asia Pacific revenue results in the past five years also show that its Asia Pacific practice contributed less than 10 per cent of the total revenue of its international network (outside the US) until the Australian merger, which took the regional contribution to 26 per cent. The move of Darwin to Australia is in line with the importance of the market Down Under to DLA Piper’s international development.
Although DLA Piper’s total revenue in the region has reached the £200m mark – higher than rival Clifford Chance’s £185m – DLA Piper has a much higher number of lawyers than the magic circle firm – 484 compared with 375.
Improving its revenue per lawyer and finding fresh growth in the region are obviously two priorities for DLA Piper’s new management team. The latest round of review and restructuring is inevitable, but its results are yet to be seen.
While DLA Piper is cutting back jobs in some areas it has also hired partners in the region. Hong Kong finance and projects partner Carolyn Dong and Singapore arbitration partner Yu Jin Tay are two of the latest.
Dong and Yu joined from King & Wood Mallesons and Shearman & Sterling respectively. Dong also brought her team of four lawyers.
Most recently the firm has appointed veteran corporate lawyer Elizabeth Johnstone as a senior consultant in Sydney to undertake strategic client and business development initiatives. She recently retired from Ashurst Australia after 20 years at the firm, and will work closely with DLA Piper’s Australian chairman Tony Holland and managing partner Andrew Darwin.
Top five recent deals
1 Advised Cathay Fortune Corporation on the organisation’s $850m (£561m) offer to acquire Botswana copper miner Discovery Metals
2 Worked with APG Asset Management on its $130m investment in the hotel assets of Lemon Tree Hotel Holdings in India
3 Advised Chinese conglomerate Fosun International on its private equity investment in Peak Reinsurance
4 Helped Ports America in the organisation’s $45m acquisition of a stake in Taiwan’s Kao Ming Container Terminal
5 Advised the Casablanca Group on its IPO on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange