DLA targets Asia Pacific growth via merger with Aussie best friend

DLA Piper is set to merge with its Australian best friend DLA Phillips Fox as it prepares to beef up its Asia Pacific practice with the ultimate aim of becoming the world’s largest law firm.

Nigel Knowles
Nigel Knowles

Partners at the firm are to vote imminently on whether to bring the Australian firm into the international LLP, which includes the UK, EMEA and Asia offices, in what would create an Asia Pacific practice with estimated revenues of £195m and 700 lawyers.

If the move, which is expected to go live on 1 May, goes ahead DLA Piper would dwarf the largest UK firms operating in the region – Linklaters and Clifford Chance – which turned over £143m and £101m respectively in the region in 2008-09.

“All our clients are looking at Australia. You cannot ignore it,” said DLA Piper CEO Nigel Knowles. “If you want to be the leading business firm you need to be in the G20 economies and the emerging markets. How can any business not be in Australia?”

DLA Piper and its best friend have been pursuing closer alignment for the last three years, with DLA Phillips Fox undertaking measures to improve its profitability, including the closure of its Adelaide office and de-emphasis of its insurance practice. DLA Piper has invested in its own Asian offices as part of a regional offering.

DLA Phillips Fox also adopted the DLA prefix and DLA Piper Middle East partners Damian McNair, Stephen Webb and Tony Holland returned to their native Australia to work at DLA Phillips Fox following the downturn in the Gulf.

Under the new structure Holland would become managing partner of the Australian practice while Asia managing director Alastair Da Costa would be managing director for Asia Pacific. The firm will also include an Australian partner on the international board.

While the firm is yet to vote on the move, Knowles was confident that partners would give the tie-up their backing.

“It’s still subject to partner approval, which we’ll get. The partners have known that we’re going down this track for some time,” he told The Lawyer.

Under the plans DLA Phillips Fox’s New Zealand offices will not be subsumed into the LLP but will remain as part of the DLA Piper group, with that jurisdiction considered less significant by the firm. However, Knowles shrugged off assertions that that practice would be spun-off.

“I’m entirely and completely committed to New Zealand,” he said. “It’s served the firm very well and it’s status quo for them.”