DWF to close Brussels and Singapore offices and cut 60 jobs

Cost-cutting measures follow strategic review and profit warning at listed UK law firm

Top 25 UK firm DWF is closing its Brussels and Singapore offices and reducing the size of its Dubai and Cologne arms in a move that will lead to 60 job losses, including those of 13 partners.

The cost-cutting measures are part of a strategic review and follow the resignation of former chief executive Andrew Leaitherland on 29 May when the firm admitted the impact of Covid-19 on its profits had been greater than it had originally anticipated.

Cuts to DWF's international network were inevitable given the firm's previous admission of the adverse impact Covid-19 was having after a sustained period of investment including 28 lateral partner hires who were 'taking longer to ramp up their practices than would normally be the case'.

Chief executive and former chairman Sir Nigel Knowles — who stepped back into a frontline management role on Leaitherland’s departure — moved to draw a line under the cuts by stressing that international revenue remained a “critically important engine for growth” for the firm having increased by 50% last year and representing more than a quarter of the firm’s overall revenue.

"The decision to close two of our smaller locations will help drive operational improvements across our business to generate more profitable growth,” he added. “Longer-term, these markets remain of interest but this is the right move for DWF at this time.”

The firm’s Singapore office currently lists six lawyers — executive partner Ben Constance is remaining with the firm and will be based elsewhere — and its Brussels arm lists a team of five.

Seventeen lawyers are currently listed as being resident in Dubai and Knowles said it would shrink to a team of eleven, including three partners: James Fox, Umera Ali and Slava Kiryushin.

In Germany, DWF is ‘reducing’ its Cologne presence — where 13 lawyers are currently listed — and consolidating its operations in that region of Germany to Dusseldorf, where it opened in October last year.

"Germany is a major global economy and remains a very important location for DWF through our operations in Berlin, Munich and Dusseldorf.” said Knowles. “Led by managing partner, Oliver Bolthausen, DWF is committed to further developing its German practice through a focus on our global sectors."

The firm said it would advise clients on EU law matters from across its European offices and through its public sector team, led by trade and competition specialist Jonathan Branton.

The cuts will reduce the firm's office count to 31 and it said it had no plans for any further closures or significant staff reductions.

In its 29 May update to investors, DWF revised down its expected revenue growth for the last financial year to around 11% from the 15-20% range it had forecast on 27 March.

It said its Middle East business had ‘materially underperformed’ with Spain, Italy and France ‘particularly impacted’ in April.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, DWF made two acquisitions in quick succession.

In January, it announced the acquisition of longstanding Chicago-based managed services business Mindcrest for $18.5m, hard on the heels of its acquisition of Spanish law firm RCD  for €50m in December.

As managing partner of national UK firm DLA, Knowles oversaw its 2005 merger with US firm Piper Rudnick to create DLA Piper. 

Earier this month, Eversheds Sutherland said it was ending its Singapore merger with local firm Harry Elias after just three years and in January Taylor Wessing split with its long-term ally RHTLaw

However, last month London firm Mishcon de Reya opened an office in Singpore after hiring a two-partner team from Withers KhattarWong.

Two members of Japan's big four — Anderson Mori & Tomotsune and Nishimura & Asahi — have both just forged alliances in Singapore, allowing them to offer local law advice to their clients.

In January, Reed Smith opened an office in Brussels after hiring five partners, one counsel and two associates from five international law firms. 

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