DLA Piper LLP - True Picture

Law firms either head for global markets or regional – one firm does both, and does it very well.

DLA Piper training contract review 2021

The Firm

What’s regional and international? Aunt Diane on the Mai Tais on a beach in Corfu? Perhaps, but we were thinking more along the lines of the enormous global law firm DLA Piper, which has seven UK offices in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and Edinburgh. Across these bases, trainees found “cross-border opportunities in the regions” as part of a “giant international network that has solid financials.”

“We’re all so internationally minded.”

DLA’s global turnover of $3.11 billion makes it the third largest firm in the world by revenue. And with over 90 offices in 40 plus countries, plus multiple affiliations elsewhere, it’s hard to find a major world centre that isn’t graced by its presence (most recently it opened in Dublin). This “breadth of global presence” was a major draw factor for trainees: “We’re all so internationally minded.”

>>> DLA Piper has launched a Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship programme in its Leeds office and applications are now open, closing Friday 9 July at 5pm. Learn more here.

Chambers Global recognises the firm as world elite in areas such as commercial contracts, franchising, and TMT, and bestows it with rankings in 44 jurisdictions around the world from the US to Timor-Leste. On home soil, DLA has so many Chambers UK rankings that you’d get RSI just scrolling through them all. Among them are top accolades in London in mid-market corporate/M&A and IT, while outside the capital it’s a national leader in both those areas, plus banking and finance, litigation, employment, pensions, restructuring and tax.

The firm recruits trainees into all domestic bases. About half of the 60-odd intake goes to London, with the rest spread between the other offices. A ‘One UK Approach’ to staffing means trainees can pick up work from offices outside their own, particularly in Manchester and Liverpool which are regarded as ‘One North West.’ New starters pick three seat options for their first seat, and subsequent seats are discussed with graduate recruitment at mid-seat reviews. The process was a bit of a mixed bag: “Some trainees received all four first options; some received zero.”

The Seats

DLA’s litigation and regulatory department covers arbitrations, corporate crime investigations and commercial litigation – “a lot of big, juicy, high-stakes litigation and cross-border disputes.” The team recently represented recycling technology company Renova Industries in multi-jurisdictional proceedings against potash company Emmerson. Different offices have slightly different flavours – Manchester for example does a lot of construction work, while Sheffield has an emphasis on telecoms work. The London team handles a lot of international arbitrations, such as representing the Republic of Kenya in a $2 billion claim brought by mining investor Cortec. Right now, the team is advising clients on a lot of Brexit-related regulatory questions, on topics like disclosure to HMRC and export control. Trainees enjoyed the variety on offer: “One day you can be working on a dispute to do with technology companies and the next a matter to do with soil!” Trainees can expect to do a lot of research and disclosure tasks, as well as court work like preparing bundles. Interviewees got to draft documents like settlement claims. “I’ve enjoyed being able to contact the other side to ask them questions on smaller claims,” one highlighted. Another said: “If you’re willing, you get wicked first-hand exposure to the client,” which includes attending meetings and mediations, writing letters, and “going to swanky client events.”

The prongs on DLA’s corporate trident are M&A, private equity and public company capital markets. The team deals with a lot of venture capital, fintech investment, matters in the energy sector, and public sector work. Deals are typically mid-market, with values in the hundreds of millions – for example, the firm recently advised Merlin (the entertainment company that owns Alton Towers) on the sale of two ski resorts and an airport in Australia to a US buyer for AUD174 million. The team also represented consumer goods company Unilever in their acquisition of Graze (which makes those healthy snack boxes). On the private equity side, the group recently advised Hyundai in its €100 million investment in Luxembourg-based Arrival, an electric vehicle company. “I worked on M&A transactions, reorganisations and public company work,” one told us, “and I had the opportunity to attend client offices and negotiation meetings.” Trainees also drafted consent letters and house forms, and reviewed shareholder agreements and articles of association. Qualifying into this department is “definitely a lifestyle choice – the team works extremely hard!” On the plus side, “the training you receive is exceptional,” according to a Birmingham trainee. “You don't realise how much you've learned until someone asks a question and you hear yourself explaining the answer.”

“I’ve particularly enjoyed working on some outsourcing projects with large, recognisable clients.”

Over in intellectual property and technology (IPT), trainees got to grips with commercial contracts, data protection and – of course – IP work. Though trainees primarily work in one sub-stream, they can have a “really varied experience sampling different kinds of work.” The department works on many public procurement contracts, with “massive government clients.” Sheffield is a bit more niche, handling pure trade mark, copyright and patents work. The team recently advised Merlin (again, the entertainment company) on its partnership with payment company Adyen for its point-of-sale payment system in over 130 of its attractions. On the IP side, the firm’s clients include Nike, Brewdog and Emirates Airlines. “I’ve particularly enjoyed working on some outsourcing projects with large, recognisable clients and have had the opportunity to hone my drafting skills,” said one interviewee. Trainees tend to conduct diligence: reviewing existing contracts and inputting changes.

The real estate group handles a “good mix of corporate support work and development work with developers and lenders on big real estate finance deals.” The team tackles disposals, purchases, rentals, liquidations and restructurings for all sorts of commercial properties, with niches in certain buildings like student accommodation. The team recently represented real estate investors Harrison Street in its £200 million acquisition of five science parks. In Manchester, the firm advised Downing Developments on lease acquisitions and agreements in its £225 million co-living development in the city centre. Trainees here worked on a lot of exhilarating and “very complex” tax calculations, but admitted that work such as Land Registry applications could get “a bit monotonous.” However, they also got drafting experience, and in some offices trainees might get to run their own “low-risk, low-cost files.” On these, trainees got to “really develop my skills and have a level of client contact I wasn’t expecting.”

The chance to go overseas was a big draw for many of our interviewees, but take note: it isn’t guaranteed and “it’s a very competitive process.” Hopefuls apply to graduate recruitment with a CV. The list of possible secondments changes seat to seat (options depend on business need), but recent secondees spent time in Dubai, Madrid and Dublin. Trainees also told us that it's not uncommon for newly promoted senior associates to do an international secondment.

“One of the big selling points for DLA is the range of pro bono opportunities.”

The London office offers a pro bono seat to one lucky individual, who “gets to do a lot of fantastic work with UNICEF, Save the Children and other incredible charities.” But there’s no need for trainees to get too competitive over bagging a spot here, as “one of the big selling points for DLA is the range of pro bono opportunities” across offices. That could mean advising on debt, assisting charities with corporate work, or even going to Greece to help refugees. The Manchester office works with anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice. “Supervisors are understanding of you doing it,” said trainees, but of course, “you’re not supposed to do it if you’ve got a tough deadline; it’s down to you to be sensible.”

Reviews of trainee support and supervision at the firm were pretty positive but not everyone was piping the same tune. A Manchester source summarised: “There’s a range of quality of supervisors and I found this directly impacted how I experienced the seats. Some were focused on training the trainee whereas others had little engagement.” The majority described “fantastic training,” with a Londoner telling us: “Each seat has dedicated training sessions and a knowledge team who help with everything from where to find a particular resource to how to file a certain type of document.”

Trainee Life

Interviewees across offices described a “down to earth” culture. “You expect at a big law firm people will have an ego to match,” one recalled, “and some do – but they are few and far between!” A couple of trainees pointed out that DLA Piper’s company values are “a prominent feature of the firm, and everyone will be able to tell you what they are. They’re even on our desktops!” Pro tip – it might be worth checking these out on DLA’s website if you land an interview. A ‘values committee’ in each office even organises activities themed around the values. “We had ‘Be Bold’ month, which included wearing bright colours,” one insider told us. “At the moment, it’s geared very much towards mental health awareness.”

DLA had a “big focus on wellbeing, even before lockdown,” though some felt that the initiatives “don’t squarely address some poor attitudes in the workplace.” Elsewhere, we heard of offices celebrating cultural and religious holidays, “which feels really thoughtful and touching.” We also heard about the firm’s “very active and well-supported” LGBTQ+ group IRIS, and its social mobility initiative HeadStart, “which helps students from less privileged backgrounds to access work experience.” Interviewees were open that “there could be a bigger push to promote racial diversity,” but overall they were “really glad that DLA is doing things actively to help promote inclusion.”

“From an induction at Sandhurst to Burns Night in Edinburgh and the Grand National in Liverpool…”

On the social side, “it’s less of a pub culture than I thought,” one Londoner expressed, instead describing a “family-oriented” atmosphere. That didn’t mean they were without their fun, as this Liverpudlian explained: “From an induction at Sandhurst to Burns Night in Edinburgh and the Grand National in Liverpool, DLA do a lot to integrate the trainee group and I have made some great friends for life.”

Interviewees across some of the smaller regional offices described a “tight-knit” feel where “everyone knows everyone.” All offices are stocked with free fresh fruit “to promote a healthy lifestyle,” and the Manchester office enjoys “a beautiful view of the city.” We heard London is the “big, posh office – they have their own gym!” It’s also home to “a sleeping room if you’re feeling stressed.”

So how stressful can it get? Well, each seat comes with a different timetable. Trainees in seats like real estate and property litigation found themselves leaving by 6.30pm most nights, with the “rare late night leaving around 9pm.” Unsurprisingly, corporate and other transactional seaters were more likely to leave around 8pm, but “you stay as late as you need to around the peaks.” Thankfully “people tell you to go home early the day after,” and a Birmingham trainee told us “the team makes an active effort to make sure you finish on time on a Friday.”

First-year trainees get a salary of £28,000 (£45,000 in London), which trainees felt “is proportionate for what we do” in most seats. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, DLA is offering upcoming trainees £10,000 to delay their training contract by a year and £5,000 to delay until February 2021. It’s also one of many firms to cut NQ salaries. London NQs will start on £76,000 down from £78,000, and cuts will be proportionate in the regions (£44,000 down from £46,000).

Qualifiers apply for up to three positions. Those who don’t get their first choice go through “a sort of clearing round” to vie for their other choices. Though the qualification process at DLA usually goes smoothly, remote working has meant that “communication this year has been pretty poor, so there’s a lot of anxiety.” In the end, the qualification process was delayed by two weeks and XX of XX qualifiers were kept on.

Put that in your pipe and advise clients about it: In 2020, the firm launched a global cannabis law team led by partners in London and Toronto.

How to get a DLA Piper training contract


Summer internship deadline (2021): 17:00 on 31st December 2020

Apply for 2023 training contracts via the internship

Solicitor apprenticeship deadline: 17:00 on 21st May 2021

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.

Summer internship scheme

DLA Piper now recruits over 90% of its trainees from its vacation or 'summer internship' 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
  • International offices: Dublin
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruitment: graduaterecruitment@dlapiper. com
  • Training partner: Duncan Mosley
  • Training contracts pa: Up to 70
  • Summer internship places pa: Up to 100
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Summer internship applications 2021 open: September 2020
  • Summer internship 2021 deadline: 17:00 on 31st December 2020
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £28,000 (English Regions and Scotland), £45,000 (London), €47,000 (Dublin)
  • Second-year salary: £31,000 (English Regions and Scotland), £50,000 (London)
  • Post-qualification salary: £44,000 (English Regions and Scotland), £76,000 (London)
  • Holiday entitlement: 28 days
  • Sponsorship 
  •  LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: Yes
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: Birmingham, Dublin, 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.

Summer internship
Our Summer Internship is designed to give students a real insight into DLA Piper. The programme runs across our eight offices in the UK and Ireland, and 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 our 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 across two of our practice groups in their chosen office location.

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 offices in the UK and Ireland for students from any degree discipline

University law careers fairs 2020
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.
Ireland: Dublin City University (DCU), Maynooth University , National University of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin,Technological University Dublin, University College Cork  University College Dublin, University of Limerick, Queen's University Belfast

Social media

Twitter @DLA_Piper_Grads

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 4)
    • Competition Law (Band 5)
    • Construction: Contentious (Band 2)
    • Construction: Non-contentious (Band 3)
    • 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 2)
    • 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 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Planning (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Banking Litigation (Band 1)
    • Aviation (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 4)
    • Commercial Contracts (Band 2)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 4)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
    • Health & Safety (Band 4)
    • Hotels & Leisure (Band 2)
    • Infrastructure: PFI/PPP (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Contentious Claims & Reinsurance (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 4)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (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)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 3)
    • Employment (Band 2)