DLA Piper is advising Discovery Communications on two big deals in Europe as the world’s largest nonfiction media company moves to expand its reach on the continent.
"Like all successful global businesses, DLA Piper continually assesses its size and structure against the backdrop of prevailing market conditions to ensure we are meeting our clients’ needs as efficiently as possible," the firm said in a statement provided to The Am Law Daily.
The Am Law Daily reported late last year about DLA’s decision to hire retired former Linklaters managing partner Tony Angel—whose success leading the Magic Circle firm was examined by The American Lawyer in detail in 2007—to take the reins as its new global cochair and senior partner. The bulk of DLA was formed in 2005 through the tie-up of British firm DLA and U.S. shop Piper Rudnick. Since then the firm, which operates under the increasingly popular, and jellyfish-like, Swiss verein structure, has grown through a series of other unions and bolt-ons around the world.
Earlier this year, The Am Law Daily examined Angel’s lengthy to-do list at DLA, which includes solving the firm’s long-running integration issues, bolstering its corporate and finance groups, and ridding the global giant of less profitable practice areas.
This summer, DLA began conducting a profitability review of its regional offices around the globe. The firm also appointed two co–managing partners for its U.S. unit in Chicago-based litigation partner Michael Poulos and Washington, D.C.–based corporate partner Anastasia Kelly, a former general counsel of insurance giant AIG. Both will work closely with U.S. cochairs Cameron Rains and Roger Meltzer, who were elected in January to work with Angel on a "transition process to advance the firm’s global position and strategy." (Meltzer is a member of the board of directors for ALM Media Holdings, Inc., parent company of The Am Law Daily.)
Part of that strategy includes bolstering the firm’s corporate practice.
On Friday, DLA advised Discovery on the largest deal in its history. The Silver Spring, Maryland–based company is picking up roughly $2 billion in assets in Europe through its $1.7 billion purchase of the Nordic arm of German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 Media and the acquisition of a 20 percent stake in pan-European sports network Eurosport from France’s TF1 Group for another $221.6 million. (French firm Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier is advising TF1 on the deal with Discovery, while Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy corporate partner Martin Erhardt in Munich is representing ProSiebenSat.1.)
Robert Bishop, the head of corporate for DLA’s U.K. operations, took the lead for Discovery on both deals. He spoke with The Am Law Daily on Friday while traveling to London from Munich, where the ink was still drying on the documents extending Discovery’s push into Europe.
"We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years," says Bishop, who joined DLA in 2003 from Shaw Pittman. "We’re no longer just U.K.–focused, we’re growing organically outside the United States, and we’re looking to make strategic hires."
Bishop says DLA’s strategic review in the U.K. is simply part of the firm’s effort to provide the best legal services to its global clients. Document production, for instance, doesn’t need to be performed in all of the firm’s offices throughout the U.K., he says, adding that DLA hopes to consolidate those services in one office. Bishop says that whether the firm continues to maintain a presence in Edinburgh or Glasgow—it has eight offices in the U.K.—will have little affect on DLA’s increasingly international operations.
Bishop—who notes that over the past few years DLA has been at the top of annual and quarterly M&A rankings for deal volume—points to the Discovery deals as a sign that DLA is making further inroads in the area of big-ticket transactional work. "The quality of our deals continues to expand," he adds. "And while overall deal volume itself is either flat or going backwards, we’re focused on capturing more market share and increasing the number of deals that we do."
DLA hopes to do that by continuing to make key lateral hires like current corporate and finance practice global cochair Meltzer, who joined the firm in 2007 from Cahill Gordon & Reindel. DLA has remained active in the lateral market ever since. That’s certainly been true of the roughly 3,800-lawyer firm this year.
For instance, DLA picked up at least 15 partners from the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf, including top corporate partner Berge Setrakian in Washington, D.C., and U.S. finance cochair John Altorelli (who spoke candidly with The Am Law Daily earlier this year after exiting Dewey) and insurance transactions and regulation head William Marcoux in New York.
Other key partners joining DLA in the U.S. this year include former Blank Rome managing partner and CEO Carl Buchholz in Philadelphia, former Faegre Baker Daniels international practice cochair Kathleen Smith Ruhland in Minneapolis, ex-Hogan Lovells energy practice cochair Kevin Lipson in Washington, D.C., former Manatt, Phelps & Phillips private equity cochair Masood Sohaili in Los Angeles, ex-Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch private client head S. Andrew Pharies in San Diego, former Proskauer Rose private equity head Daniel Eisner in New York, and ex-White & Case global securitization cohead Richard Reilly in New York.
In most instances, those partners brought others along with them. DLA also strengthened its presence in Silicon Valley by poaching five partners from Reed Smith in January. The following month DLA added a five-lawyer health care team in Miami from McDermott Will & Emery and the firm opened an office in Mexico City with a four-partner, 14-lawyer team from Thompson & Knight.
DLA, which under its verein structure does not integrate the profit pools of its various combined entities, has also been busy expanding its presence in Europe.
Earlier this year the firm hired structured finance expert Martin Bartlam, the former head of the London office at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. In August, DLA dramatically expanded its Paris office by acquiring 26-lawyer local firm Frieh Bouhenic, named after former Linklaters rainmaker Michel Frieh and ex–Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Pierre-Alain Bouhenic. (The duo now serve as coheads of DLA’s operations in France.) And in May, DLA brought aboard a five-partner team in Milan and Rome from leading local firm Grimaldi.
Amid the spate of additions, DLA has also seen a fair number of partners leave this year. (Baker & McKenzie, which topped DLA in a recent ranking of the world’s most powerful law firm brands, is now also the world’s largest firm by attorney head count, according to the most recent data compiled by sibling publication The National Law Journal.)
In the U.K., where DLA is conducting its strategic operational review, the firm has seen several practice leaders depart. A four-partner real estate team in Manchester led by practice leader Anita Weightman left for Irwin Mitchell in October. Tim Buckingham, DLA’s local banking and finance litigation head in the city, left the firm that same month for Eversheds.
David Williams, the former head of DLA’s investment funds practice in the U.K., left the firm’s London office earlier this year to join Simmons & Simmons. In February, Squire Sanders hired former DLA engineering and construction regional head Graeme Bradley and fellow partner Robert Norris in Birmingham.
Squire Sanders also recruited pensions partner Helen Miles in May from DLA’s Birmingham office and the firm opened an office in Sydney in October by hiring a team of local lawyers, including former DLA tax special counsel Louise Boyce. Also leaving Down Under in August was Mark Bartley, the former head of DLA’s national water group, who joined Aussie shop HWL Ebsworth in Melbourne. He was followed in recent months by former DLA Phillips Fox colleagues Michele Kramer, Simon Billing, Mark Beaufoy, and Charmian Barton.
In the U.S., meanwhile, DLA’s Los Angeles office saw its real estate practice raided by Davis Wright Tremaine, which brought on three lawyers in January, and Seyfarth Shaw, which took on a six-lawyer team that included former national real estate restructuring cochair Richard Mendelson in February.
In Sacramento, a city where DLA expanded last year by taking on 10 lawyers from a local litigation boutique, DLA saw at least one partner find big-firm life not to his liking and head out on his own once again, according to the Sacramento Business Journal.
Despite the constant churn, DLA added roughly 40 more partners and counsel than it lost this year, according to The Am Law Daily‘s analysis of lateral moves into and out of the firm.
As for DLA’s finances, the most recent Am Law 100 data shows the global legal giant’s gross revenue surging 14.6 percent in 2011 to nearly $2.25 billion, while profits per partner rose almost 8 percent to roughly $1.23 million.
As for this year, DLA caught some heat from Congress over its representation of a controversial Chinese telecommunications company, but the firm also advised clients on several notable deals, including Teavana on its proposed $620 million sale to Starbucks, JDA Software Group on its $1.9 billion sale to RedPrairie, a major joint venture agreement for an oil and gas free trade zone in Iraq, and, through its local affiliate, a $5.4 billion renewable energy project in South Africa.
Brent Williams, the CEO of DLA’s South African arm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, spoke with CNBC last month about his firm’s partnership with DLA and other legal developments in the region. In November, DLA announced an expansion of its African network with the addition of five independent firms in Botswana, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Uganda. DLA also has plans to open an office in Seoul sometime before year-end.
The firm and its employees were also among the biggest legal industry donors to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign—about $400,390, according to the Center for Responsive Politics—and DLA joint CEO and managing partner Nigel Knowles told British legal publication The Lawyer last month he believes the president is poised to have a successful second term.
Another prominent Democrat who returned to DLA last year, former U.S. senator and current firm chairman emeritus George Mitchell—recently honored as an American Lawyer Lifetime Achiever—dove into the latest in a long line of high-profile assignments when he was named in August to serve as compliance monitor for Penn State University in the aftermath of the sex scandal involving ex-assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Mitchell, who backed out of a role in October mediating talks between California regulators and Pacific Gas & Electric over a deadly 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion, issued his first interim report for Penn State last month.