DLA's New Coleader Discusses Firm's Leadership Change

, The Am Law Daily

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Roger Meltzer
Roger Meltzer

A little more than two years after DLA Piper hired former Linklaters managing partner Anthony “Tony” Angel out of retirement, the onetime Magic Circle maestro is poised to step down as global cochair of DLA to make way for new leaders Sir Nigel Knowles and Roger Meltzer.

DLA, the world’s largest firm by both gross revenue and head count, announced the management shake-up in a press release Tuesday afternoon in the United Kingdom. The firm said that as of Jan. 1, 2015, DLA’s top leadership posts will be shared by Knowles, a global co–CEO of the legal giant and head of DLA Piper International LLP, and Meltzer, the cochair of DLA Piper's U.S. LLP.

Meltzer, a former Cahill Gordon & Reindel partner who joined DLA’s New York office in a high-profile lateral move in 2007, also serves as head of the firm’s global corporate and finance practice. The Am Law Daily reported in January 2012 on the election of Meltzer and corporate partner Cameron “Jay” Rains in San Diego to four-year terms as cohead of DLA’s Americas arm, a move that came less than two years after both partners were promoted to top management positions.

The U.S. and international units of DLA both have their own separate leadership apparatus and partner profit pools, as mandated by the firm’s Swiss verein structure, an increasingly popularand controversial—method of arranging large international legal operations.

Speaking with The Am Law Daily by phone from London on Tuesday, Meltzer says that DLA has “no near-term” plans to abandon the Swiss verein structure, adding that the firm’s financial performance over the past few years has proven that the model can be successful. According to the most recent Am Law 100 data, the more than 4,000-lawyer DLA—a number that takes into account its U.S. and international units—saw gross revenue rise nearly 9 percent in 2012, to $2.4 billion.

“We’ve made so much progress over the past few years, and I believe that our position as a well-run, commercially viable and truly global firm has been validated,” says Meltzer, who serves as a member of the board of directors for ALM Media LLC, parent company and publisher of The Am Law Daily. “In a flat market for legal services you’ve got to be able to take [work] away from someone else, and by being in a lot of different places we’re in a position to cross-sell and grab market share.”

In the United States, Meltzer says he helps oversee lawyers that make up about one-third of the firm’s total head count. Anastasia Kelly, a former general counsel for global insurance giant AIG who joined DLA in 2010, will continue to serve as co–managing partner of its Americas arm alongside litigation partner Michael Poulos in Chicago. The international arm is structured like many U.K. firms, led by a senior partner and managing partner, with Knowles filling the latter role. (Click here for a breakdown of DLA’s global leadership.)

Meltzer says it is the partners in Asia, Europe and the Middle East who make up DLA’s international LLP that will vote later this year—mostly likely early September—on the leadership changes announced Tuesday. If approved, London-based intellectual property partner Simon Levine will take over from Knowles as DLA’s next co–CEO, while Knowles ascends the leadership ladder to run the global firm with Meltzer. Rains will succeed J. Terence “Terry” O’Malley, his corporate partner colleague in San Diego, as DLA's co–CEO alongside Levine.

“I never believe in having a plan that will fail,” jokes Meltzer, when asked if he expects the leadership transition to be approved. He notes that Angel and Chicago-based real estate partner Lee Miller—DLA’s two current global cochairs who will be succeeded by Meltzer and Knowles—will remain with the firm in a senior advisory capacity, the details of which will be worked out later this year. Miller led Chicago's Rudnick & Wolfe in its 1999 merger with Baltimore's Piper & Marbury, whose former leader Francis "Frank" Burch Jr. remains chairman emeritus of DLA's U.S. LLP. (Fellow chairman emeritus Sen. George Mitchell was named an American Lawyer Lifetime Achiever in 2012.)

In 2004 DLA took a major step on its path toward becoming a global powerhouse by merging with California's Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich and legacy British firm DLA. "We will be the vanguard of change," Knowles told sibling publication the New York Law Journal at the time.

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