DLA Piper names new practice heads amidst ongoing Australia restructure

DLA Piper has named the new leadership line up for its Australia projects group as well as Asia Pacific banking and finance practice following a string of partner departures.

The firm has promoted Melbourne partner John Gallagher, who currently leads the finance and projects team in the office, to the national head of the practice. At the same time, partner Jane Hider has been appointed to take over the Melbourne head of finance and projects role from Gallagher.

The appointments came a week after the departure of former Asia Pacific head of finance and projects Damien McNair, who has joined Gilbert + Tobin’s Melbourne office as a partner.

Gallagher will work closely with Asia head of finance and projects Rob Caldwell, who joined the firm’s Hong Kong office in April 2012 from the legacy Hong Kong office of King & Wood (formerly Arculli Fong & Ng, now King & Wood Mallesons) (30 April 2012). They will share the responsibilities of leading the practice across the Asia Pacific region.

DLA Piper has also named Sydney-based partner Onno Bakker as its new Asia Pacific head of banking and finance, replacing predecessor and former Australia chair Tony Holland who has also recently joined Gilbert + Tobin’s Melbourne office (31 October 2013).

Bakker joined DLA Piper as a partner in November 2012 from Linklaters’ Amsterdam office, where he was a partner and head of finance. He relocated to Sydney in early 2013 and has been a member of DLA Piper’s Asia Pacific finance and projects practice since then.

“We are in the process of restructuring and rebalancing our practices in Australia, aiming to realigning the Australian practices with DLA Piper’s business model globally,” said Andrew Darwin, the former UK head of DLA Piper who transferred to Sydney in April to take on the Australia managing partner role (17 January 2013).

“When we first came to Australia we were quite clear that we want to grow the transactional practice here,” Darwin said.

At the moment, the litigation practice accounts for over 40 per cent of DLA Piper’s Australian revenues, against 25-30 per cent globally.

“We want to keep growing the litigation practice but we need to strengthen the transactional practices including corporate, finance and projects, IP and real estate. We are looking to recruit in these areas across the region,” said Darwin.

“It is a very active market in Australia now in terms of partners moving among firms. Any firm can’t expect to hold on to all of their good partners. All firms are vulnerable to loss people in this market,” he added. “We just have to look to the future and continue to pursue the right people and work in the market segment we would like to do.”

Earlier this week DLA saw the exit of a 23-lawyer team from the Sydney office to HWL Ebsworth (6 November 2013). Darwin said the move was in line with the firmwide strategy.

“The work compensation team moved to HWL Ebsworth is undoubtedly high-quality in its own market, but it doesn’t fit what we do. We see that as a strategic decision to allow the practice to go to a firm where it is a core focus and a better fit,” Darwin explains. “Certain segments of the insurance sector remain key to our practices.”

Darwin drew the similarity to the firm’s strategy of moving away from commodity insurance work in the UK earlier this year. DLA Piper transferred its Manchester and Sheffield defendant insurance practices to Hill Dickinson (28 January 2013) and a nine-strong insurance team to Mills & Reeve (18 June 2013).

“When you loss partners, it inevitably attracts sensational headlines. But we are trying to stay true to our strategy. Australia is the third largest regional business following the US and UK and it’s so important for us. We’re committee to developing business here and to make sure it grow and develop in a way in line with our global and regional strategy,” said Darwin.

Prior to the full merger between DLA Piper and its Australian alliance DLA Phillips Fox in May 2011, there were 135 partners in Australia. Now the number has reduced to around 100, representing a 25 per cent drop.