Juggernaut law firm confronts changing global winds, in Israel

DLA Piper CEO talks to the Jerusalem Post about cyber security, sanctions and innovation.

 DLA Piper Co-CEO Simon Levine and Israel practice head Jeremy Lustman (photo credit: ISRAEL HADARI)
DLA Piper Co-CEO Simon Levine and Israel practice head Jeremy Lustman
(photo credit: ISRAEL HADARI)
DLA Piper Co-CEO Simon Levine is trying to use a storm to transform one of the world’s largest law firms and make it stronger.
He and the firm’s Israel practice leader, Jeremy Lustman, are also probably the largest law firm in the world which walks the tightrope between having an Israel practice – providing legal services to Israelis regarding their foreign investments – without an Israel office.
In his first interview with Israeli media, Levine told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that DLA Piper is thriving despite a business environment that no longer welcomes all things global, and cyberattacks which might have brought other institutions to their knees.
In an age when sanctions, trade wars and nationalism have relegated globalization to the background, one might think that a 4,900-lawyer firm built on the idea of leveraging its 99 offices in 45 countries to represent multinational clients would struggle.
DLA was also in the news last week over a lawsuit with its insurance company which is trying to deny its claim for losses from the disastrous 2017 NotPetya cyberattack which temporarily crippled the firms’ servers.
So how is DLA’s momentum rising deep into 2019 despite these challenges?
Part of the story has to be that Levine and DLA have embraced innovation.
Levine said that his innovative instincts started from diagnosing that lawyers needed to change their role back to being a trusted adviser for businesses.
This would contrast with the role lawyers have often been pigeonholed into as clerks who merely prepare the paperwork for big business moves after investment banks do the real strategic advising.
“Law firms need to go back 100 years to go forward,” he said, back to the era when lawyers were the trusted “consigliere” who wove all of the power-brokers’ various needs together.
Levine is also in favor of using technology to make law firms more efficient and to automize services which machines can be taught to do with complex algorithms.
But ultimately, he said that, “innovation is not about using bits of technology – that is just improving processes. It is about a changed mindset.”
As an example, he cited his firm’s London global headquarters which no longer has separate lawyer offices.
Taking its cue from hi-tech’s large open room culture, he said that by moving all the lawyers into larger open rooms and refraining from isolating practice groups from one another, “corporate lawyers can talk to litigation lawyers…and can cross-fertilize ideas.”
This attitude of embracing change – one of Levine’s signature initiatives is a radical change council to make sure new ideas are carried forward – may have helped DLA rebound from the worldwide NotPetya cyberattack which hit many businesses, including them.
LEVINE DID NOT downplay the damage of the attack on DLA’s servers. However, he said that many in the business world now ask him for advice following the firm’s aggressive push to revamp its cyber security structure.
The revamping includes a new cyber security structure which would limit future hackers from impacting broader systems even if they manage to hack one particular system.
Regarding cyber hacking, elections, privacy and related issues, Levine said that with so much focus on increasing regulation of social media giants, many are missing the real issue: enforcement.
He said regulation “without an enforcement mechanism is meaningless.”
Suggesting that blocking problematic content and sites violating privacy was part of the answer, he said that everyone is “struggling” to manage issues where lawbreakers shield their identities or seek refuge in non-democratic countries which look the other way.
Further, he said that governments, service providers and individual citizens need to invest more in questioning the credibility of the information they read.
Moving over to sanctions and trade wars, Levine said these are more serious problems than the cyber challenges.
He stated that worldwide “political, economic and social instability were a massive challenge to deal with” for global firms like DLA and were not positive for the world in general.
Describing having to cope with a situation where some world leaders might “wake up in the morning and suddenly add a name” to a sanctions or trade war list connected to China, Russia or the Middle East, he said that DLA did have an advantage of an open door to most governments.
In that regard, he recalled that DLA is the largest law firm in the UK, that it has ex-US and EU officials as consultants and that he would be seeing the UK’s Ambassador to Israel later in the day.
Jeremy Lustman, who runs DLA’s Israel practice said the firm wants to help “as many Israeli customers and investors who want help abroad” to turn to them “as their window globally.”
DLA does not have an Israel office, but its Israel practice is not hidden on its website despite the firm having major offices in Middle Eastern Arab countries.
Lustman said that Israeli clients dealing with DLA should not be thinking about the billing-per-hour meter in framing its services.
Rather, they should think of the firm as being able to handle issues from a cease and desist letter in Australia, to employment law issues in Europe in the model of the general counsel function who can save its clients from having to find new legal representation in every new country.
Instead of seeking a new firm to represent them when even small issues arise in foreign countries, he said clients can lean on DLA’s 99 offices to seamlessly handle issues across the globe.
Though Israel and moderate Arab countries’ business relations are still quiet, Levine and Lustman said that they know how to subtly handle issues for Israeli investors even in some of those countries.