DLA Piper LLP (US) - The Inside View

Emerging from a massive transatlantic merger in the mid-noughties, DLA is one of the heftiest outfits there is.

IN 2005, things changed. YouTube was launched. Viewing habits, daily productivity and happiness levels were altered forever. But transformation was also afoot in the legal sphere. That same year, a three-way Anglo-American merger gave rise to a new colossus. Its name? DLA Piper.

Just over a decade since it thundered onto the scene, DLA Piper has amassed 29 Stateside bases and a further 63 around the world. Casablanca, Bratislava, Tbilisi... they're all on the location list. As such, it's no surprise that many of our sources cited the firm's “global reach” and “the opportunity for international work” as major draws. Looking closer to home, "you get to work with people right across the country, which is pretty cool, especially when you start thinking about where you want to be in the future in terms of moving state. You're not trapped in one place." The firm's US practice is highly regarded, with recognition from Chambers USA at national level for its corporate, IP, sports law, retail, product liability and real estate groups, among others.

But it's not just the promise of megadeals and billable bucks that attracts associates to DLA. “I'd read about the firm's commitment to pro bono and the community,” said one. “And it's true in practice. I come from a relatively modest background and I wanted a firm that had a strong pro bono presence. Here the policy is geared toward incentivizing it for associates.” For more on these matters, read on.

The Work

You'll find junior associates spread all over the country, from Baltimore through to Sacramento and Seattle. New recruits are fairly even split between the corporate and litigation groups, but other areas that take juniors include government affairs, IP, real estate and employment. Interviewees described the work assignment setup as “very much a free market,” although “there is a partner who collects a work forecast report from us every week and who fields requests from partners who need younger associates to work on particular matters.” Overall, sources thought that “the system works well, although it can be an issue for a more reserved personality. You're encouraged to seek out people and teams you're interested in working with and grab your own career by the horns. Then, work begets work.”

"Not as much doc review as I thought there'd be."

Litigators told us they'd tackled a wide range of areas, including FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] matters, white-collar investigations, securities work, employment actions, antitrust, product liability and real estate cases, plus “international investigations in the life sciences sector.” Apparently, “there's not as much doc review as I thought there'd be. I'd say it takes up about a quarter of my time.” Another proudly declared that “for the past six months I've been supervising other people on a doc review. There's a lot more analysis to it.” Research tasks are regularly called for (“I often turn my research into a memo to give to a partner”) and some seasoned second-years noted that “I'm starting to draft more – motions to dismiss, portions of complaints, dispositive and nondispositive motions...” As well as this, an interviewee mentioned that they'd “participated in well over 100 witness interviews and traveled around a lot for them,” while others were busy “getting ready for trial in front of a DC governmental agency, which involves working on exhibit lists, a pre-trial submission and witness preparation.”

Meanwhile, transactional associates informed us that they “generally work on different projects – anything that falls within the corporate category – rather than specializing,” although some sources did flag up that they worked almost exclusively in smaller teams like sport and media. “I've done several IPOs on the company and underwriter side,” reported one, “along with capital markets deals, work for startup companies and a lot of M&A.” The latter involves getting to grips with “plenty of due diligence – I've gotten into the weeds like any junior!” Drafting is also on the cards: “I've worked on merger agreements and ancillary documents like resolutions and closing certificates.” All our sources were content with the sophistication of their work. “I think it's challenging enough!” chuckled a first-year.

Pro Bono

“It really gets the blood pumping!”

Associates emphasized that pro bono is “a big focus at the firm. Everyone does it and it's not uncommon to do hundreds of hours.” Up to 400 hours of pro bono can go toward the billing target for first-years. From then on, associates can count 100 hours. DLA supports a number of 'Signature Projects' that address domestic violence, education and juvenile justice issues, among others. Lots of interviewees told us that they'd helped out with “a world food program that needed temporary contracts drafted for various food vendors in developing countries” and assisted on “a program to help get businesses started that are owned by women or minorities, rather than Silicon Valley-type startups.” Others had taken on criminal cases, adoptions, immigration issues for victims of prostitution and compensation matters for veterans. “It really gets the blood pumping!”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 110,000
  • Average per US attorney: 79 

Training & Development

In their first few months, new joiners converge in the Chicago office for an initial three days of training, followed by practice-specific sessions. “They're interesting primers, but most training happens on the job,” remarked an associate, while another characterized it as “more of a social thing.” Other training opportunities are available throughout the year. “Yesterday I attended an interesting discussion about persuasion in relation to the jury, using Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast And Slow.”

"It depends on the partner."

Some sources were a little critical when asked if they felt well supported on a daily basis: “I kind of get the feeling that you're thrown to the wolves and it's up to you to figure things out for yourself. There are a lot of stressful moments as a result of that philosophy. Everyone is so busy that there's not a lot of time for hands-on instruction. Fortunately, I often work with a soon-to-be-partner who always takes time out of his day to teach me, but that's not a firmwide practice.” Another commented that “it depends on the partner. I know a few people who are very good about giving me feedback but frankly, people don't have time for that day to day. You turn in an assignment and don't hear from people – that's common to all BigLaw firms.” In addition to the annual review, associates can submit a request a written feedback form if they clock up 50 hours or more on a project.

Culture & Offices

DLA has tons of offices and we only have space here to give you a snapshot of some of them. “It's demanding but not overbearing,” said a source of the atmosphere in the DC office. “There's a great respect for good work, but also for people's time and their lives outside of work. Overall, people don't exude a stressful attitude. It's a well-oiled machine.” Apparently, the office is “stunning – it's very modern, comfortable and there's a gym.” Any aches and pains from the cross-trainer or all the fast-paced lawyering? “You can have someone come and give you an in-office massage! It's just wonderful,” purred an associate.

Over in the Big Apple, juniors were delighted with the “open and energetic” culture (despite the gym-less office). “There's nothing worse than being around people who are always miserable, but you don't see that at DLA. No matter how busy people are they'll always crack a smile and make a joke. We're able to have fun.” Indeed, some New Yorkers mentioned that they indulge in games of wiffle ball in order to “let loose and ease the stress when you're here super-late.” There are occasional happy hours, although “not as many social events as people would like.”

"It's demanding but not overbearing."

In the Windy City, we heard that “there's a silo culture. It's very disjointed, in my experience. There are a lot more partners than associates and people tend to keep to themselves. There isn't very much socializing, although the firm is making an effort to address that by organizing partner-associate events like dinners and a holiday party. The office is huge and lots of people have lateraled in from different places, so it's not like you have a group of people who've grown up together from their summer class.” The size of the Chicago base “contributes to the disjointed atmosphere. There are so many offices and a lot of them are empty, so sometimes you'll be walking down the hall and see no-one. Sometimes you see no-one all day.” A silver lining is in sight though: “We're moving to a new building in about a year, so that's gonna be great!”

Hours & Compensation

“We get paid enough to be available whenever a client needs us: that's the reality,” declared a junior. “But the firm understands that we're humans too, with social and emotional needs. We need time away from work to be effective employees. They get that it's an endurance race, not a sprint.” Indeed, sources mentioned that they'd been able to take vacation and time off for family matters. Of course, “working some weekends is unavoidable in a job like this,” as are late nights, but overall “it's pretty flexible – you can manage your own workload and work from home if you need to. You just have to let people know.”

"The firm understands that we're humans, with social and emotional needs."

Most associates thought that the 2,000 hour billing target was “definitely achievable” although “you need to be pretty busy consistently. I didn't have a problem meeting it, but I know plenty don't come close. Partly it's out of an associate's control in terms of deal flow, but you have to be proactive and outgoing if your group gets slow.” Those who rack up the 2,000 hours are eligible for a bonus. "A little more clarity on the bonus structure would be good. We know the process generally, but we could do with some more guidance on what goes into it," interviewees commented.


“Diversity isn't swept under the rug at DLA,” reckoned juniors. “There are all kinds of initiatives, although at partnership level it's not equal – such is the legal environment.” The women's group provides “a very good social opportunity for women” with get-togethers and networking events scheduled “at least every month.” Several interviewees mentioned that they were part of affinity groups for LGBT, African-American, Asian and Hispanic attorneys. “They take pride in the work they do and connect minorities to established figures at the firm, helping them to build a successful practice.” There's a 1L scholarship program during the summer and a mentoring scheme.

Get Hired

"Indications of grit."

“As a relatively young firm, we prize creativity and teamwork,” hiring partner Ben Boyd tells us. In addition to an impressive academic track record and a penchant for doing copious amounts of high-quality work, the firm looks for “indications of grit” in candidates. “We want people who can sustain interest in long-term goals and those who have the ability to respond positively to failure and adversity rather than just give up. We're interested in people who have experiences that show that when the headwinds get strong, they're going to lean forward a little harder, and keep moving forward.”

Associates added that “the firm tries not to take on stuck-up types. Although pedigree is important, if you're a snob then people won't like you. Everyone tends to exude friendliness and have a sense of humor here. They don't want people who just want to punch the clock without interacting.”

Strategy & Future

Over the past twelve months “the DLA Piper brand has continued to be built out in positive way,” says co-managing partner for the Americas Mike Poulos. “We're recognized as a unique kind of firm where creativity and entrepreneurship are valued.”

"We're remaining opportunistic in terms of expansion."

In April 2015, the firm combined with Vancouver-based firm Davis. Will DLA continue to spread across the globe? According to Americas co-managing partner Stasia Kelly, “the Canadian firm merger is a good example of how we're remaining opportunistic in terms of expansion. We had been looking at Canada for a long time but we waited to find the right partner. It's been a very successful marriage already, and we've been impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of our Canadian colleagues. We've also had additional expansion in Mexico. We are always looking for opportunities that make sense for the firm.”

Interview with Ben Boyd, hiring partner

Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive for summer associates? Which campuses do you visit? How many summers do you take on?

Ben Boyd: Our scope is national. Each year we forecast needs for new associates which means our hiring may not involve every office every year, but our larger offices do have summer programs each year. We have a conservative approach to law school hiring as forecasting needs two years out (that is the time between the summer interviews and the start date for new associates) and we want to ensure that our new associates are in demand on their start dates.

Our focus is top students at top-ranked law schools, but we are very interested in high achieving students from lower ranked schools. Our definition of 'top student' includes grades and collegiality and entrepreneurship that might be lacking from other firms' decision making. We're a relatively young firm that's just ten years old and we prize creativity and teamwork. That keeps us on top, and I'm pleased to report that we've been able to satisfy all those criteria in our summer hires.

We have hired about 30 to 35 summers nationally for the last two years – that is historically at the lower end of our summer numbers but it is consistent with our conservative approach to forecasting our new associate needs. The benefit for students of our conservative hiring – if you receive an offer take it because you will be part of a small class that will be in high demand.

CA: What are you looking for in a candidate? What qualities? And what type of person thrives at the firm?

BB: We look for somebody who is committed to the high quality practise of law, demonstrated by high achievement in their educational endeavours and high achievement in their professional endeavours prior to law school. We have found particular success with the growing number of law students who took time between college and law school to work in a profession. We have found that those experiences provide a higher initial level of understanding of what we, as lawyers, are trying to accomplish for our clients. I would also say that – and this is old-school – we look for indications of grit. We want people who can sustain interest in long term goals and those who have the ability to respond positively to failure and adversity rather than just give up. We're interested in people who have experiences that show that when the headwinds get strong, they're going to lean forward a little harder, and keep moving forward.

CA: What does the firm offer that is unique?  

BB: We're one of the few firms with a well-developed global platform – we're able to serve today’s corporations who work across borders in a seamless way. If you're interested in being a part of a global enterprise then our firm is a place where you can get that experience. We're a young firm so our attitude is one of a start-up – we embrace technological development and value new ideas and new approaches to winning clients and providing solutions to our clients’ legal issues.

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting? Any initiatives in place?

BB: Year in and out, diversity is one of our top priorities. We have several initiatives. On campus, we make efforts to see a diverse slate of students and when we bring people back to have interviews in the office, we make sure that's a diverse group too. We also have a program where we recruit at schools with highly diverse student populations. We also make commitments to national and local groups that promote diversity in legal hiring to hire diverse students that the groups have identified as promising students. We commit to making several hires after their first year of law school.

DLA Piper LLP (US)

1251 Avenue of the Americas,
New York,
NY 10020-1104
Website www.dlapiper.com

  • Number of domestic offices: 29
  • Number of international offices: 63
  • Worldwide revenue: $2,543,152,599
  • Partners (US): 616
  • Associates (US): 515
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $1000/week
  • 2Ls: $3076/week in most markets
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 33-35 2Ls,1Ls TBD
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 32 offers and 30 acceptances

Main areas of work
DLA Piper’s core practices in the US are corporate, employment, finance, government affairs, intellectual property and technology, litigation, real estate, restructuring and tax.

Firm profile
DLA Piper is one of the largest business law firms in the world and serves its clients doing business around the world, with insight into both local and international considerations. We are one of the world’s largest and most prominent legal service providers, located in more than 30 countries throughout the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, representing clients in a broad range of geographies and practice disciplines.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 37
• Number of 2nd year associates: Not lock step
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000 in most markets
• 2nd year: Varies by market
• Clerking policy: Yes; Article III Federal and Appellate clerkship bonus (market based)

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:

Summer details  

Summer associate profile:
We promote a culture that is inclusive of all, where everyone has the opportunity to grow their career and where pathways to success are transparent. We look for wellrounded, energetic and entrepreneurial people. In general we recruit from the top 1/4 to the top 1/3 of law school classes.

Summer program components:
During the summer, with guidance from lawyers in the roles of mentors, we provide summer associates with a stimulating, realistic and exciting taste of legal life. Summer associates experience challenging days filled with client work, relationshipbuilding opportunities and lively activities. All second-year summer associates attend a retreat hosted by one of our offices. During this three-day gathering, summer associates get to know one another and hear from firm leaders about the vision and values of the firm. Other topics include professional development, firm history, and pro bono. Our goal is for summer associates to experience what it is like to be on the DLA Piper team and, through the summer experience, envision their future as a knowledgeable, highly skilled, well-rounded DLA Piper lawyer.