DLA Piper has increased profit at its international LLP for the fourth year running despite a sustained period of investing ‘tens of millions’ of pounds in office moves, refurbishments and IT systems.
A strong year for its European offices – and the implementation of new accounting standards – simultaneously saw revenue lift 18.5% to £1.09bn, although on an underlying basis it climbed about 7%, slightly up on last year’s 5% increase.
The firm’s international (non-US) revenue for the year to 30 April 2019 was up £169.9m, although £105.6m of this was attributable to changes to accounting standards which means the firm now has to account for disbursements as well as fee income. The revenue increase was nullified by a mirrored £105.6m increase in operating costs, also due to the new standards.
Stripping that out and a negligible foreign exchange impact this year, underlying revenue grew £65.9m, including £52m in Continental Europe. Wage and other inflation added £37.5m to operating costs, resulting in an 8% lift in profit to £340.8m.
DLA chief financial officer Paul Edwards told Legal Business he was pleased the firm had put together a string of strong years, following a turnover dip in 2014/15. But he was particularly happy about a fourth successive increase in profit, achieved during a period of investment for the firm.
In the 2018/19 financial year the firm invested more than £30m in its offices, including its marquee office move in London. The firm is also moving in Frankfurt and Birmingham, and has refurbished a number of its premises. That was on top of investment in IT systems, accelerated by DLA’s high-profile cyber incident in 2017. DLA’s borrowings more than doubled this year to £67.2m from £32.6m the year before.
‘We haven’t grown the bottom line simply by cost-cutting, in fact, quite the opposite,’ he said. ‘We’re talking about tens of millions of pounds of investment. I could have doubled that profit increase but then not made the investments which give you the longer term possibilities which we’re going to get.’
Key management personnel, which includes the senior partner, managing partner, members of the executive committee, international practice group heads, country managing partners and service directors took home another 9% pay increase following last year’s 22% lift, up to £48m from £44m.
Total staff numbers at the firm rose to 5,209 from 5,120, while fee earner numbers lifted to 2,187 from 2,135. Staff costs increased 5% to £347.1m.
Edwards said the first eight months of the current financial year were tracking ‘very strongly’ with activity levels higher than expected during a long-standing period of uncertainty.
‘What is pleasing for us is there is still a lot of uncertainty out there, and the UK – which is about a third of our business on the international side – obviously had a period of uncertainty, but business levels were quite active,’ he commented. ‘The caution we had baked into our budgets at the time didn’t really come through in the performance.’