When Sir Nigel Knowles joined the firm that would later become DLA Piper on 13 February 1978, it was a small office of 90 people in Sheffield, England. Today, DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world, with offices in more than 30 countries, and Nigel is the company’s Global Co-Chairman. The firm’s origins can be traced all the way back to 1764, to the Leeds-based firm Barnard & Bollard, but it came to be a multinational through a series of acquisitions starting in the 1920s.
In 2005, UK firm DLA, the large Chicago-based Piper Rudnick and US West-Coast firm Gray Cary merged, forming what is now DLA Piper. It was at this point that Nigel became the Global Co-CEO and Managing Partner of the firm, before becoming Global Co-Chairman in January 2015. For the last decade, the new, combined firm has gone from strength to strength, opening new offices across the world, in Germany, Dubai, South Korea, and New Zealand.
The firm has well and truly found its groove since the merger a decade ago. The focus now, after a period of expansion, is on ensuring the firm services the needs of its clients in a way that differentiates it from its competitors. “We have more than 80 offices in over 30 countries,” Nigel says. “A lot of the assembly work has been completed, and what is very important now is to make sure that what we have created is optimal in how we serve our clients.
“Because at the end of the day, clients have many choices; we’re not the only firm in the world, so we have to be the first firm our clients think about when they have some work that needs doing. We really have to make sure that we are delivering the best possible service, and we’ve got to make sure we are listening to clients; that we are investing in the relationship. We have to become their trusted adviser, and to be their trusted adviser we have to understand the sector that they are working in so that we understand the issues they are grappling with.”