DLA Piper LLP - True Picture

Oh prospective trainee, the pipes are calling: DLA’s international reach plays a merry tune for lawyers-to-be all around the country.

Pipe right

Grab a globe and give it a spin – as it slows down, stick your finger on a random spot. Unless you’ve landed in the sea or Antarctica you’re likely to be not far from a DLA Piper office. The firm’s name sits over 100 or so bases worldwide, and seven of those are in the UK.

“DLA juggles international work with presence in localities,” which was particularly appealing to trainees outside London: “I wanted to do City-quality work without living in London. I liked the firm’s broad range of practice areas and the idea of working with both local clients and bigger ones from all over the world.” Trainees in the capital, meanwhile, were attracted to the broad range of practice areas and seats available, suggesting “the firm is trying to position itself as more upmarket. The matters we’re working on are getting bigger.”

With so many offices and people to juggle (at the last count there were 970 DLA lawyers in the UK alone), it’s no surprise that new balls frequently come into play. Tech has driven many recent changes including the hiring of a new director of data analytics and a chief information officer; plus the 2019 launch of an artificial intelligence practice. The firm has also appointed a new UK managing partner, Liam Cowell, and expanded its Brexit-prompted Dublin office with a litigation and regulatory practice.

"The matters we’re working on are getting bigger.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is DLA’s strong performance in Chambers UK, which names the firm as national leaders outside London for banking and finance, corporate, employment, IT, litigation, pensions and tax. DLA Piper also picks up UK-wide top rankings for outsourcing and retail.

It’s London, however, that houses the most trainees – 54 at the time of our calls. 21 were in Leeds and 17 in Manchester; Birmingham and Sheffield took 12 apiece and six were based in Liverpool. The firm’s ‘One UK Approach’ to staffing means teams from different locations will often work together on matters. “If for any reason I’m quiet I can ask for work from another office,” one trainee told us, and many agreed that ‘One UK’ is more than a marketing strategy. The links are only getting tighter: Manchester and Liverpool are now considered ‘One North West’ and trainees sometimes move between the two for a seat. Several interviewees also “liaised with foreign offices more than anticipated,” most often on large corporate deals.

New starters provide three preferences for their first seat. Following that “there’s an informal chat with graduate recruitment mid-seat to see where you want to take your training contract. It’s very personal and they mould things around where you’re interested in qualifying.” Business need will of course shape your journey too, and some seats are only available in certain offices so it’s worth checking up in advance what’s on offer. London has more specialist options including a dedicated pro bono seat.

Rail against the machine

As a litigation and regulatory trainee “you get the opportunity to manage smaller claims for local companies and help with disclosure and document review for big-ticket cases.” Offices come with their own specialisms – Sheffield is big on telecoms and tech disputes, for example – but DLA generally does a mix of arbitration, crime investigations and commercial litigation matters. The Leeds team recently helped represent Hitachi Rail Europe in a challenge brought over the awarding of a London Underground contract; colleagues in the City worked to defend Unilever in a High Court case brought by more than 200 claimants alleging injuries caused by armed invaders on a Kenyan tea plantation owned by a Unilever subsidiary. Other big names here include HSBC and British Airways. Smaller matters provide “good opportunities to work directly with clients and see the full life-cycle of a claim. It’s a really helpful seat for improving communication skills.” Regulatory work pops up less frequently, as it’s a smaller sub-team.

“I worked out what to prioritise and how to say no to people!”

The prongs on DLA’s corporate trident are M&A, private equity and public companies capital markets. Regional offices assist “a good spread of local clients and major companies on international deals,” the latter including Heineken, Formula E and attractions titan Merlin. Everybody we spoke to saw some M&A, “drafting the suite of ancillary documents and negotiating with the other side. You’re also assisting on due diligence and in the run-up to completion.” DLA recently advised insurance manager Compre Group on a €300 million acquisition of legacy insurance business from Generali; in another big deal, administrators called on the firm during the sale of fashion retailer L.K. Bennet to Chinese franchise partner Byland UK. “Trainees project-manage other jurisdictions and collate documents from them all,” one told us. Private equity deals are “a bit more complicated” but require similar tasks including due diligence and first drafts of smaller documents.

Three is also the magic number in IPT, which covers commercial contracts, data protection and intellectual property. Trainees are technically assigned to one substream but “you get to try your hand at everything.” One trainee “learned how to handle lots of different matters for various subsections. I worked out what to prioritise and how to say no to people!” Clients here include BMW, Next and the Premier League, which called on DLA for assistance on a court extension order requiring big internet service providers to block servers that illegally stream games. IP is “a really technical area requiring lots of research” and preparing letters before action, whereas commercial contracts called for responses to ad-hoc client queries and drafting precedent agreements. The firm recently advised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on tendering its IT provision.

Rolling in the deep end

We heard that a real estate seat comes with “loads of responsibility over your own files; managing them yourself from start to finish is really satisfying.” Trainees also “got involved on bigger projects like large-scale disposals and big London development projects.” DLA’s recent caseload includes acting for the vendors in the £100 million sale of the Reading Microsoft Campus to South Korean investors, and in Yorkshire they represented investment firms on the purchase of four student accommodation schemes to the tune of £200 million. “It’s quite a fast-paced seat,” according to one interviewee, “it really brought on my drafting skills as there are so many documents to put together.” They and others particularly enjoyed handling their own caseload: “you’re thrown in the deep end to talk to clients and negotiate licences.” Niches within the department include “even faster-paced” plot sales and investments on behalf of large pension funds.

Trainees in projects split their time between energy matters (both renewables and fossil fuels matters) and large infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and airport expansions. DLA’s expertise there made it a logical choice to assist the UK Department for Transport on its Airport Capability Programme consultation on expanding Heathrow or Gatwick. Projects deals involved “project management and keeping everyone up to date on the current position, and managing the conditions precedent checklists.” Trainees on oil and gas deals were “involved in similar due diligence to any corporate deal,” while on renewables matters they slotted into document review and assistance on pitches.

“We work for well-known names, you hear bits and bobs in the news about clients.”

Employment at DLA is “similar to lots of big firms” – a mix of tribunal disputes and general advisory work, plus some corporate support.Brexit has loomed large over the practice, clients asking for “advice on settlement schemes and the latest guidance, which seems to change every day.” Trainees were quickly drafting settlement agreements and contracts, assisting clients with interpreting legislation and preparing presentations on employment law updates. “We work for well-known names so you hear bits and bobs in the news about the clients,” a source declared. Another was thrilled by “the commerciality of the work. You’re explaining to clients how the law applies to them and thinking about realistic decisions for them to make as a company.” Away from the B-word, the firm also found time to successfully defend the Independent Office for Police Conduct against tribunal claims of race discrimination, harassment and whistle-blowing brought by a former employee.

“The chance to go overseas” was a big DLA selling point for some trainees: “I liked that the chance of getting an international secondment was high even in the regional offices.” Prepare yourself – the battle for an overseas spot is “quite a competitive process.” Wannabe secondees talk through options with graduate recruitment and submit a CV. Client secondments work to the same process; big names including ITV and the Premier League have taken trainees in the past. On secondments of every nature “teams tend to be smaller so you get more responsibility, you’re relied on a lot more.” For some destinations, the firm prefers trainees to have already done a seat in the practice area they’ll be working within, but that’s not universal.

DLA confidential

Each seat comes with a different timetable. Real estate is “the most consistent and it’s rare you’ll be in past 6.30pm unless there’s a big project”;employment and projects are similarly steady. A corporate seat is “very much peaks and troughs but not as horrendous as everyone thinks” beyond a Christmas work snowstorm, while in litigation “big projects seem to coincide and you’ll work consistently later when that happens.” Late finishes tend to be more 9pm than 9am, and contrary to certain stereotypes “the supervisors are really hot on you leaving if you’re not busy. Sometimes I’m basically herded out the door.”

Other trainee preconceptions quickly fell apart: “I thought DLA would be full of posh people because it’s such a big firm, but everyone’s down to earth and normal. Partners are really approachable and have a laugh.” The firm’s just shaken up its values and pledges to be ‘Supportive, Bold, Exceptional and Collaborative’. Several trainees noticed more of that last one via “a huge push to be more social, with regular drinks and events.” Each office runs its own shindigs – Manchester’s recent ‘pamper night’ and games evening earned particularly rave reviews – and “extracurriculars” including football, running club and tag rugby were popular. Since the values shift, interviewees also noticed more focus on diversity and inclusion including a renewed push for the very active Iris LGBT+ group. “They really encourage involvement and support even if you don’t associate with a group that falls under LGBT+,” trainees confirmed.

“…a huge push to be more social, with regular drinks and events.”

Most seats kick off with a “rigorous” training programme followed up by “fantastically resourced” additional sessions. Trainees also found they could request more formal learning if they needed it: “I wanted some more concrete training in one seat and an associate was happy to provide it.” Interviewees also found their supervisors were on hand to provide a “range of support. If you actively seek that out then senior lawyers are very receptive to your requests.” There were some complaints from trainees outside London that graduate recruitment is now wholly based in the City – they felt “it would be nice to have someone close to deal with any issues, other than my supervisor.”

All trainees come to the capital for an induction. Those who’d spent their whole training contract in London appreciated the recent move to an open-plan office as “it makes it easier to approach people for advice. There’s a white noise suppressant so you can’t hear people on the other side of the floor!” Manchester’s open-plan space is similarly popular, whereas Sheffield and Leeds are still full of “traditional individual offices. It’s inconsistent with the rest of DLA so I’d imagine they’ll be refurbished.” There’s also inconsistency in trainee salaries between London and the regions. “DLA wants to be competitive so has to pay more in the City,” some sources reasoned, though others argued: “There will be bugbears because we’re supposed to be ‘One UK’ doing the same work.”

The One UK tagline remains relevant going into qualification as “trainees can qualify into a different office if they’d like” and we’d heard about several moving to London for NQ roles.Many praised the quick pace of the process: HR releases a list of departments and offices that are hiring, but not how many jobs are up for grabs in each location, “to leave as much leeway as possible during the decision-making.” Trainees can apply for up to three positions and each department chooses if they’d like to interview. DLA did not disclose its 2019 retention figure, but interviewees were impressed with the firm’s efforts to help trainees who weren’t staying on to find positions elsewhere.

DLA recently set up a non-partner networking platform “to help junior associates build relationships across the firm and develop their careers.”

How to get a DLA Piper training contract


Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 December 2019 (opens September 2019)

Apply for 2022 training contracts via the firm's 2020 vac scheme

The application form

DLA Piper receives over 3,000 applications in total for 70 training contract places a year. Future trainees need a minimum ABB at A level and a 2:1 degree. They also need to achieve a commendation on the GDL (if applicable) and the LPC. UK graduate recruitment and development manager Katie Sands tells us: “Although we are looking for intellectual calibre, ambition, drive, and resilience, we're also looking for those who can think innovatively and have an interest in responsible business – not just making money.”

Both vacation scheme applicants and those going straight for the training contract complete the same application process. “We've streamlined the process this year, making it much simpler to complete,” Sands reveals. In terms of work experience, law-related stints are not essential, but the firm's recruiters will be looking to gain “an understanding as to why a candidate is interested in law, and how they can demonstrate that through the experiences they've had to date.” Sands explains that a prior involvement in pro bono activities will go down well: “We are industry leading in our pro bono work, so showing an early commitment is viewed very favourably.”

Those who impress at this stage are invited to take a verbal reasoning test. If candidates make the cut, they are then required to answer a set of motivational questions that assess their interest in commercial law as a whole, but also their specific interest in DLA Piper. This is followed by the completion of an occupational personality questionnaire, which, Sands explains, “allows us to understand a candidate's personal behavioural preferences.” Candidates that show they have what it takes are invited to the final stage – the assessment centre. Vac schemers complete the assessment day before their schemes.

The assessment day

The day involves being formally welcomed to the firm by a senior partner or a member of the firm's executive committee. “Candidates get to meet fee-earners from all over the UK, which gives them an insight into our 'One-UK' approach,” says Sands. There are three exercises to complete, and candidates are briefed on what they involve the day before they attend the assessment centre.

Thankfully, attendees don't have to wait long to find out the outcome of their assessment: they are contacted the day after with feedback and the result. Those who are given good news are subsequently assigned a buddy – a current trainee at the firm – who provides the candidate with support and guidance before they start their traineeship at DLA.

Vacation scheme

DLA Piper now recruits over 90% of its trainees from its vacation scheme. The three-week scheme – regardless of which office participants are in – starts with vac schemers all journeying to London for a four-day induction. On the first day, participants hear from the firm's CEO and other senior leaders at the firm. This is followed by two days of professional skills training, which covers everything from communication skills to networking to general employability. The last day of the induction focuses on learning the ins and outs of operating a responsible business. Upon returning to their respective offices, participants complete an office-specific induction before dividing the rest of their time between two departments.

At the end of the week, a supervisor (usually a senior associate or partner) sits down with their assigned vac schemer to deliver feedback. Participants complete work that our trainee sources felt was “pitched at the right level.” As one told us: “We were genuinely assisting on real work. By the end of my scheme I could really see myself fitting in at the firm.”

Participants are assessed throughout the scheme on various projects (as well as through participation in compulsory 'practice group insight' and 'thought leadership' sessions).


160 Aldersgate Street,
Website www.dlapiper.com

  • Partners 1,300
  • Associates 4,000
  • Total trainees 140
  • UK offices Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: [email protected]
  • Training partner: Duncan Mosley
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 70
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum A levels: ABB
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 100
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 6th September 2019
  • Summer internship 2020 deadline: 17:00 on 31st December 2019
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £28,000 (English Regions and Scotland), £45,000 (London)
  • Second-year salary: £31,000 (English Regions and Scotland), £50,000 (London)
  • Post-qualification salary: £46,000 (English Regions and Scotland), £78,000 (London)
  • Holiday entitlement: 28 days
  • Sponsorship 
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: Yes
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield
  • Overseas seats: Multiple (circa 15 per seat move)
  • Client secondments: Multiple (circa 10 per seat move)

Firm profile

DLA Piper is one of the world’s leading business law firms. With over 90 offices in more than 40 countries, the firm provides seamless local and cross-border advice. The firm believes great businesses can make a better world. That's why, every day, DLA Piper helps its clients succeed.

Main areas of work

Unlike many law firms, DLA Piper is organised to provide clients with a range of essential business advice, not just on large scale mergers and acquisitions and banking deals but also on people and employment, commercial dealings, litigation, insurance, real estate, IT, intellectual property, plans for restructuring and tax. We have a comprehensive, award winning client relationship management programme and our brand is built upon local legal excellence and global capability. DLA Piper has the following practice groups: corporate, employment, finance and projects, restructuring, intellectual property and technology, litigation and regulatory, real estate, tax.

Training opportunities

Our graduates complete four six month rotations, and the majority will undertake an international or client secondment. Our industry leading training is designed to equip our graduates to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours to become the future leaders of our firm.

Vacation scheme

At DLA Piper we offer up to 100 Summer Internships across our seven UK offices. The Summer Internship is three weeks in duration, commencing with a week-long induction programme in our London office. The induction programme gives students the opportunity to hear from senior leaders, to participate in professional skills training, to attend networking events and to participate in responsible business activities. Students spend the second and third weeks of the Summer Internship undertaking work experience placements in two of our practice groups. The Summer Internship also has daily practice group insight sessions and thought leadership seminars.

Other benefits

Life insurance, private healthcare, cycle to work schemes, gym, restaurant, employee assistance programme.

Open days and first-year opportunities

At DLA Piper we offer a three-day Insight Programme specifically for those in their first year of a law degree or second year of a non-law degree and who are interested in a career in law. We also host Open Days in all of our UK offices for students from any degree discipline

University law careers fairs 2019

Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Dundee, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, King's College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, University College London, Warwick, York.

Social media

Twitter @DLA_Piper_Grads

Facebook dlapiperukgraduates

Instagram @dlapiper

Linkedin dla-piper-uk-graduates

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Finance Recognised Practitioner
    • Competition Law (Band 5)
    • Construction: Purchaser (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 1)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Pensions (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 5)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 3)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 4)
    • Professional Negligence: Mainly Claimant (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Planning (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 1)
    • Asset Finance: Aviation Finance Recognised Practitioner
    • Aviation (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 3)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory Recognised Practitioner
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
    • Health & Safety (Band 4)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 3)
    • Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims (Band 5)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Reinsurance (Band 4)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 4)
    • Media & Entertainment: Publishing (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Public Affairs (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Food (Band 3)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Retail (Band 1)
    • Sport (Band 2)
    • Telecommunications (Band 2)
    • Transport: Rail: Franchising (Band 2)
    • Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 3)
    • Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 2)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)