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In the 10 months since DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary was formed from a three-way merger, the firm has opened six new offices-stateside in Raleigh, N.C., and internationally in Frankfurt, Germany; Tbilisi, Georgia; Kiev, Ukraine; Beijing; and Tokyo. Its 56 offices worldwide now total 3,147 lawyers. Firm leaders concede that the growth has come faster than planned. “Nobody knew that Coudert Brothers would blow up,” said Frank Burch Jr., co-chairman of DLA Piper’s U.S. branch. That created opportunities in Asia and Europe “that aren’t going to be there in a month. You’ve got to seize the moment.” With DLA Piper becoming only the second U.S. firm with more than 3,000 lawyers, it is challenging industry notions about how fast a law firm can-or should-grow. Rapid expansion, whether via mergers or lateral acquisitions, can lead to problems in recruiting, in strategic focus and in integration, firm leaders say. But DLA has had lots of practice. “The lens through which people view law firm growth has been altered by that which DLA Piper Rudnick has achieved,” said Peter Kalis, chairman of the management committee at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, itself a product of a trans-Atlantic merger. “They’ve conquered challenges that I haven’t.” “It’s a giant management puzzle how you fit three quite different U.S. firms with a U.K. firm,” said Ronald Lemieux, a partner in Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker’s Palo Alto, Calif., office. “The logistics and practicality of managing such an organization . . . are much more difficult.” Growth is in DNA Growth is in DLA’s DNA. The firm traces its origins to 1983, when 17 partners from a regional British firm met at a small inn in Yorkshire in the north of England in hopes of creating a national British law firm. Through a series of regional and then international mergers, DLA emerged some 20 years later as one of the top 10 firms in Great Britain, a competitor to London’s Magic Circle firms, with 430 partners and offices in 18 jurisdictions throughout Europe and Asia. Between 1996 and 2004, DLA more than tripled its revenues. Then it merged with the just-merged Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. That merger came two years before the firm had planned, said DLA’s Peter Wayte, senior partner for Europe and Asia. “The timing was slightly opportunistic. We came across Piper in 2003 and we had not expected to achieve what we achieved with Piper in a year or two.” Burch said Piper Rudnick’s merger with Gray Cary Ware & Friedenrich was also opportunistic. And as the firms looked to absorb their enormous growth, Coudert Brothers came undone, allowing DLA Piper to absorb lawyers from offices including Brussels; Frankfurt; Beijing; Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore; and Tokyo. Also this year, DLA acquired more than 80 lawyers in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union from Ernst & Young’s law practice. “Is that biting off a lot?” said Burch. “Yes . . . In a perfect world, would it be nice to do it more deliberately? Yes. But we are not looking at all of this in a vacuum. We are looking at it in a rapidly changing world, a world that . . . is very, very hostile to reactive thinking.”

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