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The corridors of power

I did a double-take recently on hearing that DLA, the UK law firm, was to merge with Piper Rudnick of the US to form the world's second biggest law firm. It took me back to 1994, when I interviewed the two top men at what was then Dibb Lupton Broomhead.

Dibb Lupton was a firm from the shires that had set its sights on the big league. Its front men had reputations that preceded them.

Managing partner Paul Rhodes supposedly spent his days screaming down the telephone at minions. Stuart Benson, the star fee-earner, joked that people would come up to him at cocktail parties and make the sign of the cross, as if fending off the undead. It all added to the firm’s fearsome status.

Dibb Lupton brought to mind the wannabe partners in John Grisham’s The Firm who work every hour, day and night.

The seeds for the US deal go right back to 1985, when Dibb Lupton was a small back-street firm in Leeds. The partners got together for a brainstorming weekend. ‘We realised we were nothing,’ Rhodes told me.

The firm doubled its size in 1988 by merging with Broomheads, a firm in Sheffield. The move to London followed in 1990. The firm later merged with Alsop Wilkinson.

Dibb Lupton’s fee income in 1989 was about £12m. After merging with Piper Rudnick, of the US, the enlarged firm anticipates fee income in 2005 of £774m.

Rhodes left Dibb Lupton and returned to Leeds as head of insolvency at Hammond Suddards. He quit full-time work in 2001, proclaiming: ‘I’m knackered.’ Benson has been acting as a consultant to Mohamed Al-Fayed.

Both men can reflect on the not-so-small role they played in getting DLA where it is today.

Jon Ashworth is the business features editor at The Times

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