Mark O’Conor, UK managing partner of DLA Piper, on the firm, its future & why he believes 'producer / manager lawyers’ are the way forward
What do you think will be the growth areas for DLA Piper in 2015?
Deep sector-led work. Whilst we retain the traditional, internal groups such as corporate, IPT etc. we need to align ourselves with our clients and their sectors to ensure that we have the right experts with the right experience in place. The Tech sector will undoubtedly continue to grow, whether one thinks of innovation, the expanding 'hub-style' effect of Tech City or similar in other cities, or the issues raised by new technologies; be that cloud, data location, transfer and ownership, or cyber security.
DLA Piper has also invested heavily in industry expertise. For example, the Financial Services sector will continue to be a major market for us, particularly the banks and alternate credit providers. Also, as market players seek to innovate whilst ensuring compliance with new regulatory regimes and adopt newer digital means of servicing their clients.
Which parts of the UK business are you looking to particularly invest in over the coming years?
We run the UK as a team; one business spread across seven offices (that's two countries, two capital cities in London and Edinburgh, and two legal systems). This allows us to leverage location, price and expertise to find the right solution for our clients - be those clients local to an office, national to the UK or with international needs. We are working hard to ensure that our firm is an employer of choice, attracts and retains the best legal talent and fosters excellence and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Each group within the UK has specific plans for development. However, common themes include increased focus on portfolio solutions and funds as well as adding additional bench strength to those areas where we are already tier one.
Can you tell us a bit about the firm’s international expansion plans?
Rather than expansion per se, our focus has been, and continues to be integration. This job is never completed but the process of doing so creates many many opportunities and results in many solid professional friendships. Ten years into the journey of the DLA Piper global firm (since the three-way merger with Gray Cary and Piper Rudnick) we have made huge strides; creating multi-jurisdictional groups, sectors and client teams. This will continue to be our focus and we are increasing the pace all the time.
Where do you think the firm will be in 10 years time?
One of a small number of global business law firms which offers a portfolio of solutions to meet our clients’ global needs. This will include traditional lawyering, combined with information data services, 'surge-capacity' legal support on a real or virtual basis and project management skills.
The research from our WIN (What In-house Lawyers Need) forum recently (where we polled some 400 senior In-house lawyers) showed that our clients want choice, demonstrable value, quality at all times and a law firm that will sit alongside them to horizon spot future issues. They will also expect their legal advisors to take on the full 'cradle-to-grave' solution in certain circumstances which will require mixed teams of lawyers together with those possessing finance and technology skills.
In five words, why do clients choose DLA Piper?
Quality, experience, and international solution.
In your opinion, what makes a good lawyer?
You have to be tenacious, have insatiable curiosity and a fair dose of people skills is always a bonus (!). But really you have to have judgement to balance your desire to solve the problems presented in a way that is relevant for your client's situation.
Finally, what are your own career goals that you still want to achieve?
There's much to do. We never arrive, the journey continues. A supervisor said to me when I was a trainee that if he had his way, everyone would be forced to re-read their text books annually. The point being that law develops, practice evolves, and business needs modify. Our job is to keep utterly on top of our field to ensure we provide excellent advice at all times.
For me? I balance legal practice with a management role. Two years in - and whilst I don't have many free moments - it is achievable. In my view, 'producer / manager lawyers’ who practice law and manage are the future; otherwise how can you be authentic in a leadership role if you are not at the coal face yourself? So for me, I want to learn more and more in my practice area and in (many) years to come, continue to be called upon to solve the most complex legal issues.