DLA Piper may be one of the largest law firms in the world, but it is not well recognized in Australia, says Amber Matthews, the firm’s Australia managing partner.
She aims to change that.
The local market thinks of the firm primarily for its insurance expertise, Mathews said. But over the past decade, it has pushed into finance and corporate and projects practices, international arbitration, and construction litigation. It also opened a consulting arm last year.
Yet, this still isn’t widely known or understood.
Together with other law firm leaders, Matthews is developing a three-year strategic plan that it hopes will alter the market’s perception and enable the firm to grow.
“Our presence in Australia is one that I certainly would like to see grow,” Matthews said. “We’re the second or third largest law firm in the world and the second most recognized brand globally, but we don’t yet have that same level of recognition here in Australia.”
As managing partner, part of her focus, she said, is to tell the story of “who we are and what we do.”
Matthews describes DLA Piper as a full-service business law firm—in contrast, she says, to many other global firms in the Australian market, which emphasize corporate and finance work, for example.
In Australia, DLA Piper has about 500 staff and 70 partners across six practice groups in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. It also has offices in Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand. It has only been in Australia since 2011, when it integrated with local firm DLA Phillips Fox, a former member of the group, to become the local arm of the global firm.
“It’s an incredibly competitive environment here in Australia,” said Matthews, who has been with the firm for almost two decades and took over as local managing partner three years ago. “We have had to substantially change the type of firm that we were, and over the last ten years, we have really developed and become a significant office of a global firm.
“But often, market recognition or understanding of any organization lags reality,” she added.
To change this, the firm will be emphasizing its global footprint of over 50 offices across 30 countries and its “deep sector expertise” in energy and natural resources, technology, and life sciences.
For example, globally, DLA Piper does more tech mergers & acquisition deals than any other firm, she said. So the firm plans to use its global reach to target Australian clients who want to expand overseas through mergers, acquisitions and IPOs.
“It might be an Australian pharmaceutical company, for example, that wants to expand into the rest of the world. We can safely say to them we really have expertise in your sector across the whole firm,” Matthews said.
Like other law firms in Australia, DLA Piper had a good 2021, with strong activity in M&A and capital markets, employment and litigation. Its real estate practice was also strong, although the lack of international travel meant there were fewer large foreign buyers of local assets.
“It’s extraordinary to me how strongly professional services firms generally have performed throughout the pandemic. I think we’ve been incredibly fortunate as a sector to be so in demand from our clients and to be in a position where we’ve been able to, in many cases, grow our businesses and maintain stability for our people,” Matthews said.
The current year is also looking good, according to Matthews. Revenue will probably be even higher than in 2021, although profits might not match 2021 levels, as firm costs are up because spending on travel and client events has resumed as COVID-19 restrictions have eased.
DLA’s Consulting Arm
Last year, the firm established the consulting service DLA Piper Business Advisory, which it said will deepen its relationship with clients and provide services that law firms have not traditionally offered.
It offers three services: helping clients understand and implement sustainability and ESG; working on the whole M&A lifecycle, from strategy formulation to integration post-acquisition or disposal and working out; and more traditional management consulting on major change and digital transformation projects.
“We think actually there is a huge benefit for clients to be coming to one provider for both consulting and legal services because it streamlines the process for the client. They get a team of people who have worked together before and there’s one point of accountability there which I think really does benefit clients,” Matthews said.
The Big Four accounting firms and their legal arms also strive to offer full-service consulting for clients, but they haven’t had the kind of market impact they had envisioned when they first moved into legal services.
Matthews says DLA Piper’s situation is different. What sets it apart, she notes, is its full-service legal offering. It doesn’t just offer those legal services that are adjacent to accountancy and consulting.
“What will be important for us to show is that we can deliver to the same level of service and expertise as the dedicated consulting firms,” she said.
In addition to focusing on DLA Piper’s specialist sectors and global footprint, the three-year strategic plan that Matthews and other law firm leaders are working on will also promote the firm’s environmental, social and governance practice, as it aims to become the leading ESG law firm.
In the area of environmental sustainability, for instance, lawyers are telling clients that they can work with the business advisory arm to help them develop their corporate aspirations and environmental targets, and assist them with the new policies and changes to the organizational structure required to achieve them.
Corporate governance and supply chain management issues are also an area in which DLA is aiming to stand out.
“One of our areas of differentiation, Matthews said, “is how we can assist clients better understand the risks in their supply chain.”