Richard Chesley is the co-US Managing Partner at DLA Piper USA – one of the largest law firms in the world, with almost 5,000 lawyers in 50 countries, and more than 90 offices worldwide. The firm has had a presence in Israel since 2012, with the company's Israel group led by Jeremy Lustman.
Chesley practices in the area of corporate restructuring, with emphasis on bankruptcy transactions, both in the United States and internationally. In addition, he handles litigation matters stemming from bankruptcy proceedings.
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Chesley elaborated on the evolution that the legal landscape underwent during the 2020 pandemic and its aftermath.
Just how strong was the global legal environment impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
“It was a period of incredible uncertainty. You didn’t know when you would go back to the office, you didn’t know whether or not clients would pay outstanding bills, you did not know whether there were going to be transactions that were scheduled to close, due diligence that was going to continue – whether any of that would ever pick up.
“That changed very rapidly by the end of the second quarter: you started to see substantial amounts of cash going into the marketplace, largely from the government. Funds and investors put the money to work, and the corporate marketplace took off like we’ve never seen. The last two quarters of 2020 and all of 2021 were the busiest corporate periods in the history of the US capital markets.”
The pandemic has obviously left a huge ripple effect in its wake — including a lot of growth that has led to a lot of hiring. How has that affected the legal market?
“The rush for talent has outstripped the ability to serve clients. A lot of lawyers came into the business, a lot of them left the business. We saw that in 2021, and even into 2022, and it really changed everything in the legal landscape from staffing to compensation.
“I think what you’ve seen in Israel is that the number of lawyers who have left to go into tech has put an enormous strain on the Israeli firms. I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it. In the US, we saw similar things: you saw lawyers leaving to clients and to competitors who were paying ridiculous – and I mean ridiculous – amounts of money. A lot of people just stopped working, and because we were remote, and we’re still in a hybrid work environment. It was really difficult to keep people together.
“Obviously, money was driving a lot of this – yeah, lawyers were leaving because of money, but we saw more than that: what they were leaving for was purpose. And that [realization] has really reshaped the way we’re approaching our law firm. You know, they were looking for experience, they were looking for training, for mentoring, for social interaction.”
“I think what you've seen in Israel is that the number of lawyers who have left to go into the tech side has put an enormous strain on the Israeli firms. I don't think there's any other way to look at it."Richard Chesley
What kind of initiatives has DLA Piper offered in order to present that kind of purpose?
“We’re very committed to the pro bono communities, anywhere we are. During COVID, we ramped that up — we did about 200,000 hours of pro bono work just in the US alone; we reinforced our commitments to doing things overseas, we kept some of our training in Africa and in Nepal, where we train female lawyers.
“We launched a program where we helped many female Afghani judges who were able to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover; we’ve helped them with resettlement, with training and with immigration issues throughout the world.
“That kind of purpose is important to serve your community. It gives people that feeling of involvement they’re looking for.”