DLA Piper's new senior partner to go 'part time' as potential candidates start to emerge

DLA Piper’s new senior partner of its non-US business will juggle the management role alongside fee earning, according to a memo circulated to the firm’s partnership last week.

As many as 12 partners are now thought to be interested in the role, with an election set to take place in the New Year following the surprise resignation of DLA Piper international senior partner and global co-chair Juan Picon last month.

Picon, who is set to join Latham & Watkins in Madrid, quit citing the amount of travel and time away from his family, but it understood that his successor will have to combine management responsibilities with their day-to-day practice.

The possibility of the role effectively being part-time has divided partners.

One partner said the memo was “shocking”, as it “really diminishes the authority of the senior partner, which in any other firm would be a key position”.

However, a former partner said that reducing the scope of the role made sense.

“I have some sympathy with going in that direction. In the past, DLA slightly overemphasised the importance of the senior partner job, because [former senior partner] Nigel Knowles was basically considered the founder,” they said.

Names of those likely to stand for the role in January have begun to emerge, with partners citing at least 10-12 potential candidates from a variety of offices outside the US.

Those cited as likely to stand by partners inside the firm include developing markets managing director Andrew Darwin, Amsterdam tech partner Joris Willems, China energy head Carolyn Dong, London corporate partner Jon Hayes and Brussels competition partner Bertold Baer-Bouyssiere.

Partners also suggest that there is likely to be a candidate from the firm’s German partnership, as well as another from its Australian business.

One partner said: “There is a lot of internal discussion – I presume the regions are trying to position themselves as well.”

The election process is set to kick off in earnest next month, with confirmation of those standing expected on 12 January. A decision is set to be made in early February.

Darwin and Hayes are both partners in the firm’s London office. Darwin, who was formerly the firm’s COO, also led the firm’s Australia business between 2013 and 2015, in what was understood to be a troubleshooting exercise.

One former partner said: “He has been a hatchet-wielder over the years,” citing his role in the offshoring of business support positions to Warsaw, which led to hundreds of job losses in the UK.

Another former partner said: “He built the practice with Nigel [Knowles] but he is not really a lawyer; he has been more involved in trying to grow the international offices.”

Darwin is also understood to have played a key role in the firm’s response to its major cyberattack earlier this year.

Corporate specialist Hayes, meanwhile, joined the firm in 2009 from Linklaters, where he had been a partner for eight years. A former partner said: “He is a star of the future, well respected – I like him a lot.”

Another adds that someone with a transactional practice, such as Hayes, would be an ideal fit. “It would be good if it was someone from corporate – the argument would be you need to develop the transactional business. Juan was almost the ideal candidate – a corporate heavyweight, a brilliant client base, nice guy, from the continent. He fulfilled all the criteria and was obviously ideal.”

Both Willems and Baer-Bouyssiere are members of the firm’s board, and with Willems in Amsterdam and Baer-Bouyssiere in Brussels, a victory for either of them would keep the senior partner role on the European continent – something many partners believe would be desirable.

Dong, also an elected board member, is based in Hong Kong. She joined from King & Wood Mallesons in 2013 and prior to that worked as an internal auditor at BP. One former partner said her client connections and her ability to generate work for the wider partnership give her clout within the firm. Her clients include BP, Chinese oil companies Sinopec and PetroChina and Danish energy firm DONG.

“She can wield power in the DLA universe because everyone is lusting after these people who seem to be generating outbound work,” they said.

Candidates will officially put themselves forward with a manifesto and then the partnership will select the winner in an open vote.

The winning candidate will work in tandem with international CEO Simon Levine, who was appointed to his role in December 2014. Levine also faces a potential election late next year, as his four-year term will expire at the end of 2018.

Levine and the winning candidates will also work alongside their counterparts in the US – global co-CEO Cameron Jay Rains and global co-chair Roger Melzer.

DLA Piper declined to comment.