The new face behind DLA

Juan Picón´s move across
Madrid from Squires Sanders &
Dempsey to DLA Piper made
headlines. Not only did he take
his whole office with him, but he
also got the top job at his new
firm. He talks to Iberian Lawyer
about his decision to move and
his arrival at his new firm.


Juan Picón se traslada de
la oficina de Madrid de
Squires Sanders &
Dempsey a la de DLA Piper
y ocupa los titulares de la
prensa jurí­dica. No sólo
porque se llevó a todo el
personal de la oficina con
él sino que, además,
consiguió el puesto
directivo en su nueva
firma. El mismo comenta
que la naturaleza jurí­dica
más diversificada de DLA
le llamó la atención. Los
despachos norteamericanos
tienden a especializarse en
finanzas y M&A, sin
embargo DLA es un bufete
multidisciplinar y de ámbito
mundial. Con su llegada,
DLA se sitíºa en la liga de
los grandes españoles pero
el plan de futuro de Picón
es crecer y ser el despacho
de referencia en España.
En este artí­culo, Juan Picón
habla con Iberian Lawyer
de su decisión y de su
incorporación a la nueva
firma.

That Picón chose a career in the
law is hardly surprising; his
father is a lawyer, as are two of
his sisters. Perhaps unusually
for a lawyer, he appears confident
about embracing change and the risks
involved. Although, it is evident from
the outset that he knows what he wants
from a law firm and that DLA Piper
match this criteria.

He started his legal career with
Banco Santander's international legal
department, although it was not long
before an up and coming presence in
the Madrid legal market lured him into
private practice. Peter Cornell had been
with Clifford Chance's Madrid office for
just one month when the young Picón
joined in 1988. The market was
changing fast.

'Peter was a real visionary', says
Picón. 'It is true that Clifford Chance
had a phenomenal client base in the
UK, particularly in the finance and
M&A arena, but we had to prove to
those clients that were used to using
Urí­a and Garrigues that we were as
good, so we worked hard to get the
reputation we did.'

Peter Cornell, who moved on from
Madrid to manage the whole firm, is
equally complimentary. “Juan was a
good associate and a good friend,' he
says. 'We worked on a number of high
profile deals together and he was
always full of energy, enthusiasm and
got the job done.”

quote

Clifford Chance proved to be an
excellent training ground. As one of
only twenty lawyers at the time, Picón
was exposed to a wide variety of
practice areas and clients. He spent a
year in London, where he worked on
high-profile privatisations in South
America.

US debut

It was following his return to Spain,
however, that he caught the eye of
Squire Sanders & Dempsey. Already an
acknowledged player in the telecoms
market, Squires was representing Bank
of America Private Equity, GE Capital
and La Caisse de Depí´t on their
acquisition of Cableuropa. Picón and Clifford Chance were representing US
West. After much research, and given
the buoyancy of the telecoms market at
the time, Squires spotted an opportunity
to become the second US law firm with
a presence in Spain. It chose Picón to
help it realise this goal.

As managing partner he built a team
of 25 lawyers, although he found Squire
Sanders & Dempsey had its limitations.
For many clients, global coverage and
representation is increasingly important,
he explains, and this was one of the
factors that led Picón to favour a move
to DLA.

'For the kind of legal work I wanted
to provide clients with, you needed to be
global. It wasn't just that we didn't have
a London office, though that was a very
limiting factor, but we were without a
true presence in France and Germany
either, and so we were restricted in what
we could do.'

In Picón's opinion, good or best
friends are only ever just that. They have
their own clients and priorities. Conflict
is inevitable.

quote

Investment was a second key issue
for Picón, as he believes that law firms
have to keep growing if they are going
to satisfy the career aspirations of the
more talented. At Squires, he says he
was able to generate a good level of
profit with three equity partners and a
team of 25 lawyers, but it left no room
for growth.

'The approach the US firms have to
the market is different. They might
invest, but after a short period of time,
they expect profits similar to those they
get in the US, despite the fact that our
charge-out rates are far less,' he says.

Also, the culture of billable hours and
leverage is very different. 'In this
country, the new generation of lawyers
are less keen on doing 2,000 billable
hours, not because they are not hard
workers, but because they have a
different set of priorities and values.
They want to have their own life outside
the law firm. US firms don't always
understand this.'

Moving on

It addition to DLA, Picón also had
discussions with a number of other law
firms. 'It became very apparent that
DLA understands the local markets and
the local dynamics very well because the
firm is almost everywhere already,' he
says.

'The learning curve has been very
steep over a very short time span, but
has obviously been shared and
understood by the management of the
firm from day one. They have the
strongest belief in this initiative. They
want not only to be global, but also to be
full service in every jurisdiction and that
requires paramount investment, which
they are willing to make. They have a
commitment and drive that I don't think
many firms have.'

quote

The motivation of the DLA senior
management, and in particular the
managing partner Nigel Knowles, has
become legendary in the UK. More
notable than the growth of London´s
Magic Circle, Knowles and his team
have grown from a local base in
Yorkshire, a region of England known
for its farming more than finance, into a
global player.

'These men will eat you for
breakfast' warned the front cover of
London's Legal Business in 1993, above
a picture of the senior management team
from Yorkshire, warning London´s
establishment of their 'rottweiler' image.

While fellow Leeds firms – Hammonds
and Eversheds – followed the same path
to London and then internationally,
including Spain, DLA´s growth has been
exceptional. A reported global revenue
of around €1.27bn last year make them
the second biggest law firm in the world,
after Clifford Chance, with a profit per
equity partner of around €853,000
ranking it ninth in the UK by profit.

The impression created by Knowles
had a strong influence on Picón's
decision. 'In my time with Squires I met
many managing partners and this guy is
quite different. The same can be said for
the guys in the US. They have this
clarity of vision and a strategy that they
live for. For me, having this clarity of
message was unique so I came back
from London believing that this was an
opportunity we had to investigate fully.'

While DLA have long since lost the 'rottweiler' label, Knowles is widely
regarded as having a determined character, not dissimilar to the way
former colleagues describe Picón.

This diverse nature of DLA's practice
also appealed to Picón. Many US firms
that he had come across in the past were
focused only on M&A and finance. DLA
by contrast had a 'full service law firm
approach' and areas like
litigation/arbitration and real estate are
key parts of the practice.

quote

Still growing

When Picón and his team joined DLA
in Madrid, it catapulted the firm into the
senior league. In terms of the number of
lawyers it has on the ground, it is now
in the same league with foreign
competitors such as Linklaters and
Freshfields, but DLA still have their
appetite for growth.

'The plan is to grow,' he says. 'The
vision we have as a law firm is to be a
leading player in each jurisdiction where
we have an office. This is an attractive
proposition which has already led to
many lawyers approaching us, because
it is rare in the current environment to
find law firms that are prepared to invest
and not expect a return the next day.'

The management team at DLA
believe that Picón will make a success of
the office, but that it will take time and
further investment. He has just hired a
five lawyer anti-trust team, including
high profile Juan and José Mariá Jiménez
Laiglesia, to join a DLA team led by the
respected Antonio Creus. Besides
considering more lateral hires,
particularly for M&A, he is also
committed to opening an office in
Barcelona.

People are another theme in Picón's
plans for the future. While growth allows
a firm to retain its best lawyers, he sees
the need for a more flexible attitude to
career development in a law firm.

'We are working on a system which
enables different career paths. In my
own view, there is no necessity for an up
or out system in this market. There are
extremely talented lawyers who have a
lot to offer, but you need to be in a
position to offer them something
different these days.'

He describes a system in which there
might be a series of different routes or
models – a high performance model for
example might take an associate to
partnership in a short period of time,
but demand exceptional results and
commitment. A more relaxed model
might suit those who are in less of a
hurry and wish to maintain a different
work/life balance.

He feels the traditional US firm
model is also limiting because it places
constraints on the amount of time a
manager can spend with his people.

'One of the things that I learnt is that
you need to devote time to your people,
and this is one of the problems with the
standard US model. You are expected to
bill 1800 hours a year and do all the office
and people management on top of this.'

At DLA, his billable hours are
reduced which enables him to spend
more time with his staff building the
business. A more innovative approach to
remuneration which rewards crossselling
and cooperation also ensures that
the firm operates in a collegiate way so
that opportunities are maximised.

His clients clearly approve of the
move, as all of them have chosen to
transfer their work to DLA. But it is not
this that Picón regards as his greatest
achievement.

'I like doing client work and
complicated M&A deals – but to me one
of the most rewarding and professional
achievements that I have had to date is
when I decided to move to DLA with
the other partners of Squire Sanders. We
had a meeting with the entire office and,
with the exception of one secretary,
everybody chose to come with us. This
sense of cohesiveness and togetherness
we have is pretty unique.'

As a source at a competitor law firm
suggests, 'Not surprisingly, most of
Picón's national and international
competitors have sat up and taken note,
but his biggest challenge now is to
integrate his incredibly loyal Squire
Sanders team with the incumbent DLA
operation.'

It appears that this is a challenge he is
prepared to take. DLA have gained
increased resources and a new leader for
their Madrid office, while Picón now has
the time and investment to build the
practice he has always wanted.

The new face behind DLA

Garcia-Sicilia

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