Sandra Wallace - DLA Piper country managing partner – on her new role, career and the UK’s place in the firm’s global business
Congratulations on your appointment. How have the first few months been?
Thank you. The first few months have been great. A highlight has been a roadshow I've been doing over the past few weeks, visiting our UK offices. I am looking to drive the UK groups and offices forward collectively, because the UK is a significant contributor to DLA Piper's global business, and of course, I cannot do that without the support and commitment of the UK team, so it has been great to see so many people in each office around the UK and to get an opportunity to meet face to face with lawyers and business service professionals alike.
What was your route to managing partner?
I have been with DLA Piper for my entire career. I trained with the firm and became a partner in 2001. I am a partner specialising in employment law, advising a portfolio of UK and multi-national businesses including NCR, Hilton, Genting and Avon. I was the firm's UK head of employment between 2012 and 2015, before taking up the role of country managing partner for the UK on 1st August this year. It's my remit to lead the 2,000 legal and business support staff based in the UK, working locally, nationally and internationally as the client need demands.
Can you tell us a bit about the firm’s ‘One UK Approach’?
The 'One UK' approach is about cross-sharing and being consistent to deliver the most effective service for our clients. The firm provides full service legal advice from its seven major centres in the UK: London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh. In the UK, our firm prides itself on its ability to operate seamlessly as a single team. As part of the 'One UK' ethos, deal/case teams comprise fee earners from across the UK offices who deliver the same level of service - depending on the client's needs - no matter which UK office co-ordinates the work. This also enables the firm to be more flexible on pricing than many of our City-based competitors can be.
In addition, we gain great opportunities by being consistent across all our UK offices, not only within the UK, but also internationally. By creating a consistent message and a consistent identity, we offer an effective shop window to clients, which sells the full services of the firm; and thus puts ourselves in a stronger position in the market to profile our high-value focus areas.
Outstanding client servicing is at the heart of the firm but how is that achieved?
At DLA Piper, we put our clients at the heart of everything we do, delivering high quality and consistency to them globally and locally. Everyone at the firm believes that no matter what role we undertake, each and every one of us has a significant contribution to make for our clients.
The DLA Piper brand is built upon local legal excellence, global capability and long-term, full service relationships with our clients. We have a comprehensive, award-winning client relationship management programme, and this helps us to determine how we can deliver a client-led service wherever they choose to do business. We listen to our clients, and ensure that their needs are met consistently across practices, sectors and geographies.
Our firm was recently ranked as the second most favourable and recognised legal brand in the Acritas Global Elite Law Firm Brand Index for 2015 - experiencing the biggest points increase of 2015 rising 12 points and two ranks in total. This is a testament to the way in which we are adapting to the changing market and winning client loyalty and favourability as a result.
How important is DLA Piper UK to the global business?
DLA Piper is a global law firm in 30 countries across the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East, positioning us to help companies with their legal needs around the world. The firm's global revenue for 2014 was $2.48 billion. The UK is a significant contributor to both the international (EMA and Asia Pacific regions) and global (North and South American regions) practice. We act for significant FTSE 100 companies and our brand is strong, resulting in a high level of client activity, new wins and client development.
How do you bring out the best in the team?
I want to retain, support and develop our top talent and attract new talent to the business at all levels. As a firm, we value diversity and respect for the individual. We believe in developing all our people and rewarding achievements fairly. I promote an inclusive culture in which everyone has the opportunity to progress their career and where pathways to career progression are transparent. Valuing diversity and really believing in teamwork, we celebrate and draw on our strengths as a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-jurisdictional global firm. We are committed to developing the capability of our people and helping them to realise their potential by achieving a consistently high standard in managing, training and supporting them and developing their careers.
Flexible working seems like a big part of your vision so what initiatives are in place and what are the benefits of it?
Absolutely. I am a working mum, so I am an advocate for flexible working practices. I am keen to make sure that as a business we are motivating and enabling our people to work more efficiently and effectively. The firm wants to invest in the future development of our people in a dynamic and agile way.
Where would you like the firm to be in five years' time?
It is our vision to be the leading global business law firm, so we are all working hard to achieve that goal. The firm has grown rapidly over the past decade. In 2004, we had a global turnover of US $568 million - which ranked us 30th in the world - had offices in 21 cities in Europe and 5 in Asia, and had just under 1,500 lawyers. Last year, our global turnover was US $2.5 billion - ranking us number one in the world - we had offices in 31 cities in Europe, 29 cities across the Americas, 12 cities in Asia Pacific, and had over 4,000 lawyers. Such rapid internationalisation expansion led to us recently being named as 'Game Changing Law Firm of the Past Ten Years' at the FT Innovative Lawyers awards, so it would be nice to think that in five years' time, we are making good progress towards becoming Game Changing Law Firm of the next ten years.
Have you got any personal career goals that you still want to achieve?
If I think back to my comprehensive school days I have pretty much blown away all my career goals. Being a mum, partner, head of employment and now country managing partner for a global law firm is not bad. My career goal now is demonstrating in the legal world that you can be a successful, profitable business leader and do so working in an agile, flexible, way.
Can you sum up a DLA Piper lawyer in one sentence?
A DLA Piper lawyer puts their client at the heart of everything they do, is entrepreneurial, strives for excellence and is ambitious in the quality of their work for each and every client.