DWF secures trophy hire of former DLA Piper head Sir Nigel Knowles as chairman

DWF has hired Sir Nigel Knowles as its new chairman, nearly 18 months after he stepped down as DLA Piper’s senior partner and global co-chair.

Knowles, who was knighted for his services to the legal profession in 2009, took up the role at DWF at the start of this month. He replaces Alan Benzie, who was in the role for 10 years.

Benzie is staying on at DWF as a non-executive director and continues as chair of the firm’s audit committee.

Knowles said: “DWF’s approach is exciting and fresh, their focus has been and continues to be centred on their clients – and anyone who knows me understands that for me, it’s all about the clients.”

DWF managing partner and CEO Andrew Leaitherland added: “Over the past few years, we have laid the foundations to create something completely different in the legal market for our clients, and Sir Nigel Knowles is the perfect chairman to help us take this forward as we develop our business.

“We’re redefining legal services, by connecting legal expertise with a broad range of products and services to solve our clients’ business problems from start to finish. To have Sir Nigel join us is a huge vote of confidence in our strategy.”

Knowles led DLA Piper for two decades, overseeing the firm’s transformation from a small Sheffield-based partnership to a global player.

He stepped down from his roles at DLA as global co-chairman and senior partner of the firm’s international partnership at the end of April 2016, and retired as a partner in June that year.

He became managing partner of legacy Dibb Lupton Broomhead in 1996, overseeing its mergers with Alsop Stevens, and Wilkinson Kimbers to create DLA.

In 2005, DLA merged with Chicago-based law firm Piper Rudnick and San Diego-based firm Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, to create DLA Piper.

Knowles was chief executive officer of the firm’s international LLP until 2014, when he took over from Tony Angel as chairman, with Simon Levine taking on the chief executive role.

DWF has grown rapidly during the past decade, rising from a £40m regional firm in 2006-07 to break through the £200m mark this year on the back of a series of mergers and acquisitions, including the pre-pack takeover of collapsed firm Cobbetts in February 2013. The firm first broke into the UK top 50 rankings in 2009-10.