Two big beasts, a whole bunch of questions. When The Lawyer broke the story of Tony Angel joining DLA Piper last year, one question everyone asked was how he would get on with Nigel Knowles.
It’s not an idle query. With such a high-stakes hire at so senior a level the chemistry between the two is key. Now, there’s always a bit of mandatory bromance with newly-yoked management teams; witness the initial love-in between David Harris and Warren Gorell when Hogan & Hartson merged with Lovells. In the early days of this relationship it is clear that Knowles – the expansive evangelist of DLA Piper – will defer to Angel when appropriate. It’s all desperately collegiate.
The second question centres on the scope of Angel’s job. His reputation at Linklaters was as the cerebral assassin, although the magic circle firm’s partners, who saw profits equal Freshfields’ once more after Angel’s restructuring, hardly complained about the end result. So what are the metrics that Angel will use in assessing his new firm? There’s speculation from DLA Piper partners about the imminent downsizing of a top-heavy management layer. One suspects that a greater integration of the US and non-US sides of the business is driving much of this water-cooler chat, since the US side is considerably leaner in that respect, but that is incidental to the main objectives. The task is twofold: systems integration and quality of work.
To the outside world, the first appears surprising. DLA Piper has built a reputation for managing process and service delivery, yet there are clearly anxieties internally about this. The second objective underpins the firm’s punt on ABS vehicle LawVest. But while smoother mid-market firms now see DLA Piper as a proper competitor for corporate business, there are no shortcuts in moving from being a volume to a value player.
Still, DLA Piper’s key advantage is its global name – a comfort factor for clients. Compare with Hammonds, which doesn’t exist anymore – except as Airstrip One in Squire Sanders’ empire. In a post-ABS world, it’s not about passive reputation; it’s all about actively managed brand.