Legal Business Blogs

Quality not quantity – stalled growth at DLA Piper but a leaner global giant boosts the bottom line

After years of breakneck expansion, DLA Piper is increasingly into a phase of managing and refining its 80-office global practice, at least according to the firm’s recently-announced results for 2014.

DLA Piper today (5 March) confirmed that its revenue for 2014 was flat on 2013 at $2.48bn, while its profit pool increased by over 10% from $602m in 2013 to $667m. Profits per equity partner (PEP) were up 13% from $1.33m in 2013 to $1.49m last year.

The results reflect a period of cost-cutting and a firm-wide drive to tilt its practice upmarket after years of global growth and mergers. DLA Piper reduced its ranks by 260 lawyers in 2014 to 3,702 lawyers and also launched a new low-cost services centre in Tampa, Florida.

This follows an effort to manage out underperforming partners and restructure what was deemed an over-lawyered offering in Asia-Pacific.

The 1,250-partner firm attributed the rise in profitability to a buoyant year in finance and M&A work, having been instructed to advise Vodafone on its €7.2bn purchase of Spanish telecoms company Ono at the start of last year and Synergy Health on its $5.2bn merger with Steris later in 2014. DLA Piper also picked up a number of high-profile IPOs in London, including last year’s largest AIM listing, the £750m float of the owner of Camden Market – Market Tech.

Having made increasing its revenue per lawyer (RPL) one of its main targets last year, the firm managed to move RPL from $625,000 to $670,000, an increase of 7%. Efficiency savings helped to push its profit margin from 24% to 27%.

IP litigator Simon Levine replaced Sir Nigel Knowles as co-chief executive at the start of this year and has made greater integration between the firm’s US and international arms as a major goal.

DLA Piper this week announced its first merger since Levine’s appointment when it confirmed a tie-up with 260-lawyer Canadian practice Davis. The deal will see DLA take over nine Davis offices and fulfil its long-held desire to enter the Canadian legal market.

The notable cooling of DLA Piper’s growth in recent years means it has ceded its position as the world’s largest law firm by income to Latham & Watkins, which last month confirmed a 14% hike in revenue in 2014 to take its turnover to $2.61bn. The results come as a number of major US law firms have already announced robust growth in 2014.