DLA Piper LLP (US) - The Inside View

Globalism may be part of the DLA DNA, but so is a focus on local economies, and the associate experience is a mix of both worlds.

EACH paw-paw tree stands tall and proud next to its companions in the forest. Its narrow, white trunk supports a flurry of leaves and luscious fruit. But dig down beneath the underbrush and you’ll find something magical – each and every paw-paw is connected by a vast network of roots to its neighbor, making the whole forest one big tree. You might call DLA a law-law tree. It has over 4,000 attorneys in 40 countries around the world, and 28 offices in the US alone, with a presence in pretty much every major commercial center in the nation. Juniors described the firm as “a giant – truly global rather than simply international.” And just as the giant paw-paw is heavily laden with fruit, DLA Piper offers juicy entry-level associate positions in all 28 US locations.

DLA Piper's forest of offices is recognized by Chambers USA nationwide and in 15 states (and DC) across a range of practices, from commercial litigation in California and technology in Texas, to insurance in Illinois and real estate in New York. The firm's Chambers USA rankings are mostly in the mid-tier, but it does pick up a few top-tier nods, notably for real estate. An associate was right to point out: “You’d be hard pressed to find a geographic area or a specialty where DLA Piper doesn't have a presence.”

Strategy & Future



US managing partner Stasia Kelly tells us that the firm will “continue to look for opportunities to expand and change so that we’re constantly staying up with the changing economies around the world.” Going forward, DLA plans to push on “down the path of trying to be the world’s leading global law firm. We look through that filter whether that’s in the US or the world as a whole.”

The Work



DLA's main practice areas are corporate, employment, finance, IP & technology, government affairs, litigation, real estate, restructuring and tax. The majority of juniors work in either litigation or corporate, while the employment and real estate groups also take in more than a handful.

The litigation practice covers “general commercial litigation, defamation First Amendment cases, insurance work, government investigations and white-collar crime.” Juniors are mainly generalists. “We do a bit of everything," one said. "It’s a blast, I love it. One cool thing about working at such a large firm is that if you want to get involved in something, you can reach out all across the world – someone will do it, so you can make it happen!” The DC office does a disproportionate amount of government investigations work. “A lot of our partners are former prosecutors," one interviewee explained. "They have the best perspective and insight that’s invaluable.” Smaller offices like Baltimore pick up a lot of trials, which “most associates have been involved in one way or another.” Outside of getting court experience, juniors in litigation draft correspondence and memos, do legal research and – “inevitably” – doc review. “That’s not most of what I do," one source said, "but it’s definitely a filler.”

Litigation clients: Al Jazeera, Blue Cross, Apple, British Airways. Successfully defended the estate of Marilyn Monroe against allegations of trademark infringement and false association brought by licensing company owner Leo Valencia.

The corporate department is involved “heavily in mergers, venture finance and securities work, with some real estate transactional work.” The West Coast sees a larger proportion of venture finance work. Most is on the startup side, but Seattle has a specialism in representing investors. “I really enjoy the venture capital financing work because I get to help through all the stages and listen in on deal discussions," a junior told us. "Venture capital finance has a quicker pace than typical mergers and it’s great to learn about a company's new ideas.” We heard that “you can be the main point of communication for clients,” though in big East Coast cities like Philadelphia and New York juniors play a “less substantive role, as the work is more task-oriented and less conceptual.” Contrastingly, in smaller offices staffing is “pretty lean,” and juniors will find themselves reviewing company contracts, tracking closing documents, and updating partnership agreements.

Corporate clients: Sodexo, AMC, Bank of Montreal, Coca-Cola. Advised billionaire Tilman Fertitta on the purchase of the Houston Rockets NBA franchise, including the operating rights to the Toyota Center arena, for $2.2 billion.

Real estate doesn’t take in a huge number of juniors, but the practice is notable due to its legacy of prominence in the firm. The 2005 three-way merger that created DLA Piper included Chicago/Baltimore-based Piper Rudnick, which had been a leader for real estate law in the Windy City as far back as we can see in the Chambers USA rankings, with Baltimore not far behind. Real estate juniors work on “acquisitions and disposals for big developers and institutional investors.” Deals often relate to student housing, senior living and medical office buildings. “Junior associates are encouraged to dabble in all areas that interest us," one source reported. Rookies be found on calls with clients, managing checklists, and drafting purchase agreements and tenant agreements. We heard that the main challenge here is time management. “I usually work on five to eight matters a day," one interviewee said. "It’s a balancing act!”

Real estate clients: New York Times, Blackstone, Tishman Speyer, University of Chicago. Representing Disney on the real estate aspects of its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox.

Career Development



There are three levels of 'associate academy' that juniors pass through in their first three years. The first of these, the 'new associate academy,' gathers all newbies in one location and provides them with a series of training sessions over three days. Back in their home offices, juniors can take advantage of in-house training. “You’re encouraged to peruse any type of training and learning," a source said. "If you don’t see what you want, you can ask it to be created formally or informally.”

Juniors we spoke to were positive about the regular feedback they received and the easy access to partners – something they didn’t expect coming into such a large firm. "I have no issue pausing and asking a partner what’s going on," a typical source said. We heard that "when there’s a free moment," senior lawyers will "give networking advice and big-picture career tips,""share business development nuggets of wisdom,” and help you "learn how to draft business development plans." There's also a formal mentoring program, which is “great, especially if you’re not sure where to start. Mentors also give advice or go to bat for you if you’ve got too much work.”

Culture



At the time of our research Chicago was home to most juniors, closely followed by New York, Palo Alto and Washington DC. Other offices with several juniors are Los Angeles, San Diego, Austin, Philadelphia, Seattle, Baltimore, Boston and San Francisco. There are also a few juniors in offices like Phoenix and Dallas.

Given the sheer size of DLA Piper, we were surprised to hear most associates praise the “small-office feel” of the firm. That's down to most individual offices being midsized or small. One source expanded: “You always think of DLA as one of the biggest law firms in the world, but the DC office has a small-firm feel. In a lot of ways each office functions like its own little law firm.” When we asked interviewees to think of the bigger picture, many felt that “it’s kind of overwhelming sometimes – you can feel isolated due to the size.”

“Each office functions like its own little law firm.”

Still, most juniors manage to have a healthy working relationship with their colleagues nationally and globally. “The other day I was trying to find out something really technical and specific. I called an associate in another office who I’d met at a conference once and they gave me the answer straight away!” Others love the fact that “the firm’s so global that it’s able to utilize its own international network for support. I’ve had a great time working with Japanese, British and Kiwi teammates.”

This cross-pollination means a lot of DLA Piper’s culture is universal. The most common thing we heard was that “people take a genuine interest in getting to know you as a person.” One associate reported: “I’m a sports fan so people always ask me about the latest game.” Another told us: “I have pictures of my family in my office, and people will remember things about them and ask how they’re doing.” Though we heard of semi-regular drinks and the odd partner barbecue, associates confessed that “with our work schedule, we don’t get to hang out socially quite as much as we’d like to.”

Hours & Compensation



I work 12 or 13 hours a day," a typical junior told us. "And there’s some days when it’s a lot longer than that.” Many juniors choose to only work their core hours from the office, leaving between 6pm and 8pm, and doing the rest of their work from home. “I go to the gym or eat dinner and then log back on at home for an hour or two,” one source explained. When the going gets really tough, we heard, there can be weeks at a time of 2am finishes. A source reflected: “I know that during those two weeks I will have no time for me at all – I just block it out and do it.” As this quote suggests, the juniors we spoke to were all pretty sanguine about their long hours. "I do a lot of hours, but it doesn’t FEEL like a lot," one shrugged.

"I just block it out and do it.”

Despite there being a national flexible working policy, the extent to which lawyers opt to use it varies between offices. Attorneys on the West Coast told us they could work from home without issues, but further East we heard: “It’s available, but I don’t know in practice how well it works.” Those who manage to integrate working from home into their regular working week told us that “the working hours feel a lot better when you’re doing things on the couch!” Also available is a part-time proportional hours option. One source commented: “Part-time attorneys have much more flexible schedules, but I know that those schedules aren’t necessarily always respected.”

Diversity & Inclusion



Diversity and inclusion training is mandatory for all new associates, with “regular updates and check-ins after that.” Associates were universally “glad they made it mandatory – it brings in partners and people who need to listen to the message.” As all sessions are different, this brings up “natural conversations at lunchtime along the lines of ‘what did you do at yours?’”

Despite this emphasis, many associates told us that “visually it’s hard to see diversity on a day-to-day basis when you’re walking around. It’s still a very white and masculine workplace – especially at the partner level.” However, most were impressed with the inclusion efforts on a national and local scale. Particular praise was given to DC’s Hispanic heritage lunch and San Francisco’s LGBTQ pride celebrations. “They celebrated it for the whole month," one source observed. Overall, interviewees felt that you could “be authentic about who you are and what life is like outside the walls of the firm.”

Pro Bono



“I’ve been working on pro bono all morning," one interviewee told us. “The expectation is you do 60 to 100 hours a year.” Most of our interviewees had done way more than that. The type of pro bono associates do is “only limited by what your interests are.” Some typical examples include immigration and human trafficking cases, helping nonprofits and community startups, and small criminal cases. Some offices have a signature pro bono theme – for example, Baltimore focuses on education and San Diego on veterans' issues.

“I’ve been working on pro bono all morning."

Two lucky juniors a year get to be a pro bono fellow, spending their entire first year doing solely pro bono work. “It has no detrimental impact on your future career,” we heard. Across all levels of the firm, we heard that there are “a lot of lawyers dedicated to only pro bono.” Midlevel associates also get the chance to go to Zambia to teach legal skills.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 108,300
  • Average per attorney: 65

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: Undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: Undisclosed

Hiring partners Katie Grasso and Raj Shah tell us that DLA’s on-campus interview efforts “focus on the top national law schools as well as several key schools that have close local ties to one or more of our offices.”  The firm sees between 40 to 60 students at each campus. The firm also recruits from a number of job fairs across the country, including the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Boston Lawyers Group, Chicago Cook County Bar Association Minority Law Student Job Fair, Philadelphia Area Diversity Job Fair, Southeast Minority Job Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, Northwest Minority Job Fair, Veterans Legal Career Fair and the Hispanic National Bar Association Job Fair. Additionally, the firm posts all of their summer associate job openings on their website and encourages students to apply directly.

Grasso and Shah tell us “the firm typically sends partners or teams of partners and associates from a variety of practice groups (often alumni) to conduct the on-campus interviews. The firm’s senior leadership also takes an active role in our summer program during both on- and off-campus interviewing.” Questions typically consist of behavioral interview questions, as Grasso and Shah explain: “We believe that behavioral interviews allow us to go beyond the facts on a candidate’s resume, discover and confirm the candidate’s behavioral skills, abilities and talents, and help to ensure that candidates are evaluated equally.”

Top tips for this stage:

“We encourage candidates to find out as much about us as they can - through our website, speaking with our attorneys and alumni and their career services offices.  We realize that deciding whether to interview with a firm or accept an offer is an important decision, so we want students to feel like they have as much information as possible.”Hiring partners Katie Grasso and Raj Shah

“Focus on giving the interviewer a sense of something that is not reflected in your resume or otherwise is unique about you.  The OCI interview is very short and does not allow the interviewer to spend a lot of time with the candidate, so it’s important that the candidate conveys what makes them stand out.”Hiring partners Katie Grasso and Raj Shah

 

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: Undisclosed

With so many offices, there are some regional differences in how callback interviews are conducted. “Many of our offices use a ‘super call back’ day format where we interview 16 to 20 students in a single day using a panel interview format,” Grasso and Shah explain.In some offices, the ‘super call’ interviews are followed by a reception or a Q&A session with the recruiting team or leadership figures at the firm. Other offices invite candidates back to meet with four to five individual lawyers for two to three hours. As with the OCIs, questions are often behavioral, as Grasso and Shah tell us “our focus at this stage is really in getting as complete a picture of the candidates as we can.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Be authentic. The callback interview is really a chance for us to get to know the students and for them to get to know us.”  Hiring partners Katie Grasso and Raj Shah

“It’s also helpful for students to really have done their homework. They should take the time to go to our website and have a clear idea of why they are interested in interviewing with us. There is a lot of information on our careers website about who we are, what we do and who we are looking for.”  Hiring partners Katie Grasso and Raj Shah

 

Summer program

Offers: Undisclosed

Acceptances: Undisclosed

Grasso and Shah say summer associates at DLA Piper “experience life as a lawyer through practice and observation.” Work is assigned using an online database that displays available projects. In many offices, summers can request to work on a project through the database, while in others, summers work closely with a work coordinator to take on new projects. They can also take on pro bono work to “develop their skills in leadership, teamwork and communication.”

Grasso and Shah tell us the firm “devotes a significant amount of resources to each summer associate.” Depending on the office location, summers can be given assignment coordinators, partner/associate mentors, and readers (these are individuals at the firm who are top writers – they’ll review a summer associate’s assignments and go over the work with them in detail). Summers can also take trainings such as legal writing, ethics and legal research.

“The capstone of our program is our annual summer associate retreat,” Grasso and Shah tell us. This two and a half day day event brings together summer associates from around the country at one of the firm’s offices. During the retreat, there are further trainings and, “of course, a lot of fun built into the event as well.” Most summers return to the firm as junior associates, and Grasso and Shah say “we do our best to place the former summer associates into their first or second choice of practice areas.”

Notable summer events: Going to see Hamilton, bowling, cooking classes, a fireworks cruise.

Top tips for this stage:

“We would encourage summer associates to engage with the summer program as much as possible.  By that we mean, try to be present each day.  Take advantage of the opportunities for informal lunches and coffees.  Seek out connections with lawyers, partners and staff and participate fully in the training opportunities offered.”Hiring partners Katie Grasso and Raj Shah

 

And finally...

Throughout the interview stages, interviewers look for key characteristics that Grasso and Shah say “make a successful associate at DLA Piper.” Those characteristics are: Organized, Problem Solver, Collaborative, Enthusiastic, Confident and Committed to Quality.

Interview with US managing partner Stasia Kelly



Chambers Associate: What are the most recent developments at the firm?

Stasia Kelly: We are growing nicely and the firm’s doing very well. We had a terrific year in 2018 and we are off to a great start for 2019.  We continue to look for opportunities to expand and change so that we’re constantly staying up with the changing economies around the world. We’re continuing down the path of trying to be the world’s leading global law firm. We look through that filter whether that’s in the US or the world as a whole.

CA: What’s unique about DLA culture?

SK: I jokingly say as the US managing partner: we’re entrepreneurial – that’s the good news and that’s the bad news!

But seriously - our partners are always focused on how to grow, how to develop relationships, how to do great work, and how to bring together teams. As an attorney, I see the DLA Piper entrepreneurial spirit as something I don’t see in any other firm. It’s exciting for lawyers to be able to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do in a top-down, bureaucratic firm.

I encourage that and it’s unique about us among most firms. That’s what drew me to the firm. That’s what distinguished the firm for me. Finding a firm who would look at me, recognize my potential and experience, and say ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do with you, but we’re going to figure it out!’ That spirit – it’s risk taking, but it’s an opportunity, and we need to recognize the opportunities in all our lawyers as they come up the ranks.

CA: How does DLA Piper US manage to keep a strong culture despite the firm’s global presence and history?

SK: We’re a relatively young firm, having come together with constituent firms starting 2001 and then a major merger in 2005. So we have a very good handle on what we want to be. We’re definitely not the 50- or 100-year-old firm or the firm run by founders that have command and control. We have lots of entrepreneurs at our firm and most of us are lateral hires.

We’ve come to be able to articulate to firms across the world that we’re entrepreneurial, global and integrated. We look to our partners to be collegial, encourage team-building and give our clients the focus of our attention doing the best legal work we can. That identity has been ingrained in the culture.

CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to navigate/adapt to in the future?

SK: The way law firms are using associates and attorneys as resources is shifting before our eyes. Some trade publications say that some associate classes are getting smaller. First year classes are getting smaller and more specialized. Part of that evolution stems from the fact that firms are locked in to pay for the work of first and second year associates but it’s expensive and clients have made it clear that they will not pay for these resources. So firms are looking at alternative resources, for example using staff or contract attorneys instead.  This will impact how firms will staff in the future.

We need to make sure we’re investing in our associates. You used to come to a firm and think that you were going to stay there for the rest of your career. If you were considering a change, you would never talk about it, or you were ostracized. That has all changed, which I think is extremely healthy. Spending your entire career at the same law firm has now been replaced with different potential career paths for lawyers.  While it is a little frightening working out the future and the paths that may be available – I think it’s great to open up career paths for young lawyers that really never existed before. When I hear about mid-levels thinking of going in house, I want to help them, not hide them! If they’re successful going in house, we might have a new client.

Though lots of young lawyers are nervous about the future of law, I’m excited. It’ll be more challenging but there will be different choices – I think that’s more of an opportunity than it is a risk.

DLA Piper LLP (US)

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

  • More than 90 offices in 40 countries  
  • Worldwide revenue: $2,835,985,510
  • Partners (US): 622
  • Associates (US): 577
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Stacy Silverstone, Director of Legal Recruiting (stacy.silverstone@dlapiper.com)
  • Hiring partners: Raj Shah and Kathryn Grasso, National Hiring Partners - Associate Recruiting
  • Diversity officer: Kelly Neiman
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 51
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls 15, 2Ls 44
  • Summer salary 2019: 1Ls: $3,653.84/week in most markets 2Ls: $3,653.84/week in most markets
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

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 a global law firm with lawyers located in more than 40 countries throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific, positioning us to help clients with their legal needs around the world.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:

TBD

Recruitment outside OCIs:
We participate in job fairs and resume collects at numerous law schools throughout the US.

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 well-rounded, energetic and entrepreneurial people. We generally 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 law firm life. Summer associates experience challenging days filled with client work, relationship-building opportunities and enriching activities.

All summer associates attend a retreat hosted by one of our offices. During this three-day gathering, summer associates get to know one another and participate in team building and training activities.

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.

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.dlapiperlegalcareers.us
Linkedin: dla-piper
Twitter: @DLA_piper
Facebook: DLAPiperGlobal
Instagram: @dlapiper

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Life Sciences (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
    • Venture Capital (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity Recognised Practitioner
    • Healthcare (Band 3)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 1)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Environment Recognised Practitioner
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer Recognised Practitioner
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 3)
    • Tax Recognised Practitioner
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity Recognised Practitioner
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A Recognised Practitioner
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation Recognised Practitioner
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation Recognised Practitioner
    • Franchising (Band 1)
    • Government Relations (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Investor Representation (Band 1)
    • Leisure & Hospitality (Band 3)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Outsourcing (Band 4)
    • Privacy & Data Security (Band 2)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • REITs (Band 4)
    • Retail (Band 1)
    • Retail: Corporate & Transactional (Band 2)
    • Sports Law (Band 2)
    • Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 3)
    • Tax: Controversy (Band 4)
    • Corporate/Commercial (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)