Refresh perspectives – with Sir Nigel Knowles

Josh Adcock, editor, Briefing|Briefing June 22

The challenge of rewriting a global law firm’s strategy in the middle of a pandemic may seem daunting to many leaders, but for former DLA Piper chief Sir Nigel Knowles it was all the excuse he needed to get back in the legal saddle. Josh Adcock hears his thoughts on taking the helm at DWF, how he plans to embed a meaningful career proposition for future talent and meet the Big Four on their own terms.

As we sit down in a meeting room in DWF’s offices on the thirty-second floor of London’s Walkie-Talkie building and look down onto the Thames and the Tower of London, Sir Nigel Knowles looks right at home as the CEO of the kind of international business that might command such views. Unsurprising, as Knowles was formerly joint-CEO of DLA Piper, at that time the largest law firm in the world by revenue – since overtaken only by Kirkland & Ellis and Lathan & Watkins.

But the first few months of Knowles’ time as CEO involved far less imperious views, as he was largely isolated at his Sussex home. Having stepped up from being DWF’s chair to CEO in May 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, he says the isolation of that time was a considerable obstacle to taking the helm. “At DLA Piper, I had interviewed or promoted every partner. I hadn’t met anything like that proportion of people at DWF by that stage, so I was operating as CEO without knowing how individuals tick – it was a real learning curve.”

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