DLA Piper saw its revenue increase by 7.7 percent to $2.84 billion in 2018, while profits per equity partner grew 6.7 percent to $1.87 million.
This made for the second straight year of growth for the global firm, after a 2017 that featured a 7 percent increase in revenue and a 6 percent boost in PEP.
Head count was up slightly, rising 2.6 percent to 3,702 and revenue per lawyer climbed almost 5 percent. The equity partnership dipped slightly under 1 percent, while the total number of partners climbed 3.4 percent to 1,246.
Jay Rains, DLA Piper’s global co-CEO and Americas co-chairman, attributed last year’s strong performance both to an improving global legal market and to the firm’s recent investments in building a worldwide presence.
“There’s always a lag between when you are achieving something and when you see the results,” Rains said. “We’ve been preaching a global integrated strategy to our clients for some time.”
London-based global co-CEO Simon Levine noted that regulatory work was strong across the firm’s global footprint in 2018, driven in part by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. His London colleague, global co-chairman Andrew Darwin, flagged the firm’s global litigation work, emanating from London into Europe and the Middle East.
On the transactional side, the firm is serving as regulatory counsel representing T-Mobile US Inc. and Deutsche Telekom AG in their still unfolding merger with Sprint Corp. It’s also representing T-Mobile in national security matters related to the transaction, which received approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in December.
Rains pointed to strength in the upper middle market segment of private equity transactions, emphasizing that M&A work drives other services. He also said that tech and IP work has been bustling and that 2018 marked a breakthrough for the firm’s global investigations practice.
“You can feel the firm moving further and further way from commodity practices,” global co-chairman and Americas co-chairman Roger Meltzer summarized. “Law firms have two choices now: you can sit where you are in terms of commodity practices or you can move upmarket. We have decided to move hard upmarket, and we have been successful in doing that.”
One significant addition for DLA Piper in 2018 was the March addition of a six-member team from Jackson Walker in Austin that represents institutional investors in connection with their alternative investments. That’s part of a significant investment in Texas that also included a slew of Dallas hires earlier in the year from Dentons and Hunton Andrews Kurth.
“We haven’t had a year where laterals have hit the ground running in the U.S. better than last year,” Raines said.
Meltzer added that the T-Mobile work was being handled by a group of laterals that came aboard in 2016 from Wiley Rein. “Those kind of matters and engagements create significant brand equity and make the firm a magnet for people who feel they can’t get to where they want to get to at their firms of origin,” he said.
Levine contends that appeal goes beyond just lawyers, pointing to the firm’s current efforts to hire a chief marketing officer for the international side of its operations.
“You look at some of the candidates, and where they come from—some from industry, others from traditional law firms. They see us as much more exciting, with our use of technology and innovation, and less hierarchical,” he said.
DLA Piper also slightly expanded its international footprint in 2018. It opened a Dublin office to take advantage of the city’s growing importance in life sciences, technology and financial services. It brought on formerly independent Argentine firm Cabanellas Etchebarne Kelly to round out its expansion efforts in Latin America. It also absorbed Danish firm Delacour, a 60-lawyer operation with offices in Copenhagen and Aarhus. These moves followed sizable 2017 growth in Africa.
“The reality is that if you look at what our footprint is now, Latin America, Africa and the Nordics are very different regions that are strategically important to our clients,” Levine said. “I don’t think there’s a load more places that we would go.”
Rains agreed, but said that the firm has ambitions to continue to grow in key markets in the U.S., such as California, Texas and New York, and globally in London and Germany.
Looking ahead to 2019, the firm carries over $10 million in debt, but the leadership team says they are investing heavily in innovation. Examples include a partnership with Imperial College in London, where the university’s data sciences faculty is working with the firm’s data to help improve client-service delivery, and joint ventures with major tech companies to assess how the firm should be investing in new technology.
“We are going to spend the money that we need to spend to be leaders in innovation,” Meltzer said.
And the firm’s leadership, including the usually guarded Meltzer, has high expectations for the coming year as a whole.
“I was a big believer, and we hedged against it operationally and generationally, that the second half of 2019 and 2020 could start to see a recession that would hurt us,” he said. “I don’t see that. I am cautiously optimistic.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the origin of the attorneys handling the T-Mobile work. The error has been corrected.