DLA Piper Global Scholarships Programme

DLA Piper is a leading global law firm with offices in over 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific.

In 2019, the firm partnered with Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford to build the leadership course of its Global Scholarships Programme, which helps law students in developing countries reach their potential and contribute to the rule of law in their communities.

DLA Piper Leadership Programme group photo

Supporting sustainable development

Launched in 2017, the Global Scholarships Programme sponsors law students (known as DLA Piper Fellows) from Africa, South and West Asia, the South Pacific, and Latin America. There are currently 59 students on the programme, and over 20 alumni. This is a two-year scholarship, which provides tuition payment, mentoring, internships, and multiple opportunities to develop global, regional and local peer and professional networks. 

The programme is a core part of responsible business at DLA Piper and underpins the firm’s commitment to helping achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals – particularly development goal 16: peace, justice, and strong institutions. 

'To achieve sustainable development in emerging markets, you need successful and stable commerce,' says Andrew Darwin, global co-chair at DLA Piper. 'You also need a strong focus on the rule of law. This comes from having an effective and influential legal profession. The foundation of that is good legal education. As a global law firm, we have seen the challenges of access to education, and the Global Scholarships Programme is our response to that.'

'There are currently around 736 million people living in extreme poverty. Global businesses have the opportunity make a real impact on reducing extreme poverty around the world and with that opportunity comes a moral responsibility to act,' explains Nicolas Patrick, international pro bono artner. 'The countries where we award scholarships are virtually all classified as Least Developed Countries. These are the countries that face significant structural barriers to lifting their populations out of poverty. The role of business is essential to success.'

'The leadership course at Oxford is one of the most popular elements of the Global Scholarships Programme and makes the experience transformational,' says Roger Meltzer, global co-chair at DLA Piper. 'By investing in the Fellows, we are helping develop leaders that will have a huge impact in their communities.'

Leadership development

‘Change comes from within,’ says Clementine Johnson, head of social impact at DLA Piper. ‘Having a law degree in these developing markets is like having a superpower, and these students are the future leaders and politicians who will shape their direction of the countries. So, it’s crucial this programme builds strong leadership skills.’

After a competitive process, Saïd Business School was chosen as the strategic partner to design and deliver the leadership course. 

‘Saïd stood out for two main reasons,’ says Ian Hagg, director of responsible business at DLA Piper. ‘They understood the unique nature of the Global Scholarships Programme very quickly, and it was clearly aligned to their own values around the importance of sustainable development. They also understood the need for a safe environment in which the participants’ confidence could be developed. We have 59 Fellows from 18 countries, with a high proportion of young women. It’s not a typical leadership programme.’

Natalie Barker, senior client engagement manager at Saïd Business School, agrees: ‘There is strong alignment between the Global Scholarships Programme and our own commitment to the UN sustainable development goals. As a world-leading business school, we help address these goals by teaching sustainable, ethical, and purposeful business, and working with organisations like DLA Piper who are committed to making a difference.’

Designing the leadership course

DLA Piper and Saïd Business School designed the leadership course together. It was an iterative process and involved consulting with potential faculty and contributors throughout to ensure the course would meet the needs of both DLA Piper and the Fellows. 

The course’s objectives are to help Fellows to:
•    better understand what constitutes ‘leadership’ 
•    have a greater awareness of their own leadership styles 
•    be more confident leading in challenging situations
•    make commitment to practical leadership action

A variety of learning styles and methodologies have been employed, including:
•    presentations
•    plenary discussions
•    small group exercises
•    Oxford tutorials
•    a client panel
•    a boardroom simulation 

Participants can look both inwards and explore their own perceptions and approaches to leadership and get valuable external leadership perspectives. 

‘The firm’s commitment to developing talent in emerging markets underscores our own focus on building leadership skills and perspectives. People at DLA Piper do not need permission to lead, it is not about reaching a certain point in someone’s career but about recognising all employees have opportunities to lead from the earliest point in their career;’ says Liza Strong, head of talent development for DLA Piper.  ‘DLA Piper and Saïd Business School designed the leadership course together and are confident the programme will create a strong foundation for the Fellows to become catalysts for change. The design process involved combining the academic rigour of Oxford Said with the practical focus required to ensure the programme would meet the needs of both DLA Piper and the Fellows.’ 

The course is delivered by Oxford faculty and presenters from external organisations such as the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, the Ivey Business School, Pearson and PCA Law. 

The course is designed to equip the participants with an understanding of various leadership topics and models, but that could be readily applied in their own situations. 

Course structure

DLA Piper leadership scholars

The first leadership course was held over three days. The opening day was delivered in Oxford, with days two and three held at DLA Piper’s offices in Central London. It was piloted with 19 Global Scholarships Programme Fellows from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Senegal, Solomon Islands and Uganda. Before starting, the Fellows undertook a psychometric assessment, which was discussed during the course. This gave the Fellows insight into their strengths and tendencies, which were further explored in the sessions.

‘The leadership course was beyond my expectation,’ says Semhal Fissehaye, a Global Scholarships Fellow from Ethiopia. ‘It looked at leadership not from a traditional sense of becoming a leader of an organisation, a company or a political party but rather from an intrinsic level of how one can attain leadership character. Importantly, it gave us practical exercises to build our leadership by pushing many of us outside of our comfort zones.’

Mwape Machaya, from Zambia, another of the Fellows says: ‘The course gave me a better understanding of what really constitutes leadership, a greater awareness of my own personal style, and how a leader needs to be confident in challenging situations.’ 

Ian Hagg adds: ‘The course is all about stepping back and asking yourself some very fundamental questions. It really challenges the Fellows to unpack what perhaps they think it means to be a leader. There are lots of different cultural perspectives about leadership, and Oxford brings a culturally diverse approach to the discussions.’

Course impact

DLA Piper continually monitors the impact of its Global Scholarships Programme. Twice as many students taking part in the programme ranked the leadership course as one of their top three programme elements when compared to the other development courses.

‘The leadership course at Oxford is one of the most popular elements of the Global Scholarships Programme and makes the experience transformational,’ said Andrew Darwin. ‘By investing in the Fellows, we are helping develop leaders that will have a huge impact in their communities.’ 

Semhal Fissehaye adds: ‘Experiencing Oxford University was amazing in itself. Taking a course there was one of my dreams, and this experience showed me that I should keep on pursuing my goals of leading big.’

The leadership course inspired me to search for the leader within me. Like they say – you cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself into one.

Mwape Machaya

DLA Piper Global Scholarships Programme Fellow

Examples of day one sessions

Fundamentals of leadership

In the opening session, the Fellows are introduced to the topic of leadership and identify the specific challenges they face. Some of these challenges include coming from low income families, living with a disability, pursuing a law degree without the support of family among others. The session examines what constitutes strong leadership, with a focus on there not being one single model, but about being prepared to be an individual. The Fellows write their own leadership story, and then practice techniques to embrace challenges rather than stepping back from them.

Futures carousel

The futures carousel is delivered in the style of Oxford Tutorials, where faculty provide a level of insight based on the quality of questions they are asked by the Fellows. Each faculty expert talks for 15 minutes, followed by an informal Q&A session. Discussion areas include:

  • Climate justice – exploring climate change negotiations and issues of climate justice, such as the Paris agreement, the realities of how effective it will be, and what issues remain unresolved.
  • Impact of AI on legal services business models – exploring what leaders of law firms need to know about AI and how the governance of law firms needs to change to bring in business support professionals
  • International development – analysing some of the economic, political, and social challenges in different parts of the developing world and how countries can promote equality through policy-making.

Examples of day two sessions

Character-based leadership

Fellows are introduced to the competencies, character, and commitment (3 Cs) leadership model. There is discussion around the eleven dimensions of character, illustrated through a case study. The Fellows unpack the findings from the pre-programme psychometric assessments and explore what character means in different leadership contexts.

Pro bono

This session introduces the concept of legal training as a ‘super-power.’ With this power comes responsibility, and the Fellows explore how they can use their legal skills to benefit their communities through their work and knowledge.

Examples of day three sessions

Leadership communication and influence

An inspirational legal leader with deep experience in developing markets discusses the importance of authentic communication when influencing others. The first session focuses on developing a personal leadership communication style. The second looks at three influencing scenarios that reflect future challenges the Fellows may encounter.

Boardroom simulation

To bring the leadership, communication, and influence skills to life in a business context, the Fellows take part in an interactive boardroom simulation, based on an investment decision-making process. The simulation demonstrates different leadership communication styles, identifies the various factors that may affect and influence decision-makers, and explores how personal leadership communication styles are influenced by values, character, and strengths.