More pins in maps: there’s something about DLA’s frenetic international transformation that is starting to ring warning bells.
Over the last year DLA has managed to sniff out disgruntled partners across the Continent and launch in Spain, Belgium, Austria and now Italy. As reported yesterday on http://www.thelawyer.com, DLA has raided the entire Milan office of Coudert Brothers and jacked in its Italian alliance with De Berti Jacchia.
So far, so good. The former Coudert office certainly has a decent reputation in the Milan market; it was originally part of German outfit Schurmann & Partners, which merged with Coudert a couple of years back – but the Italian partners are understood to have been a different profit centre from Coudert’ international practice.
And here’s a thing: the Italians coming in right at the top of the equity. Shall I say that again? The Italians are coming in at the top of the equity. From a four-partner ringfenced boutique in Milan to a total merger with the UK’s most centralised, most dirigiste law firm. No potential problems there, then.
In fact, you can’t help wondering whether Nigel Knowles’s shuttle diplomacy is verging on the obsessive (all that discipline, all those targets – soooo New Labour). This mantra about wanting to be – altogether now – a “top five European firm by 2007” is all very laudable, but there’s a danger that DLA is starting to over-obsess on ticking strategic boxes.
So far DLA’s management success has been predicated on forward movement: build a national practice; merge in London; build critical mass in the City; find firms in Germany, France and Holland; boost Asia; keep those profits climbing. Just don’t stand still.
So what happens when everything’s in place and you just can’t grow any more? Finding the offices is the easy bit. It’s making them work together that’s tough. And making Milan work with Madrid is a whole bunch harder than making Birmingham work with Leeds. Is DLA just scared of being boring?