The world’s largest law firm by headcount got even bigger this year thanks to a host of further tie-ups. The most significant for Dentons’ UK practice was the merger with elite four-office Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens in July 2017. It followed combinations with Dutch outfit Boekel and Central American firm Munoz Global, and strategic alliances with Vella Pugliese Buosi Guidoni, of Brazil, and Peru’s Gallo Barrios Pickmann. Oh, and Dentons has also recently launched in Georgia with the hire of DLA Piper’s 11-lawyer team in Tbilisi.
The pace of growth has been soaring. Ultimately it has been led by Dentons’ 2015 merger with one of the biggest law firms in China, Dacheng. Other recent bolt-ons to what until as recently as 2010 was London corporate outfit Denton Wilde Sapte include major practices from the US, Canada and France. These days Dentons has more than 80 offices in over 50 countries and counting – and global turnover of over $2 billion. Among these are some of the most interestingly located bases of any international firm, with outposts for example in Turkmenistan, the Cape Verde Islands and Mongolia. Closer to home, Dentons has offices in Milton Keynes and Watford as well as a big City of London base.
Revenue for the UK, Middle East and Africa branch of the business is up for the fourth consecutive year – albeit by a pretty small 1% (to £166 million) following some tough Brexit trading conditions in the UK. This figure will likely rise considerably more sharply next year once the Maclay Murray & Spens deal is accounted for. But profit per equity partner (PEP) is down by 9% to £481,000 following a 6% rise last year.
What does this all mean for students contemplating applying to the firm?
Well, there is no doubt that Dentons is going places, and it promises to be an exciting journey. But it’s also true that much of the international growth is unlikely to have a huge impact on the training contract experience for now – which remains essentially that of a long-established City law firm with a good record for bringing through junior lawyers.
Having said that, international opportunities have risen quite sharply this year – according to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18, nearly a third did an international secondment or spent time abroad with the firm. The destinations were suitably far flung in many cases. Highlights included a stint in San Francisco. There were some good client secondments too, with highlights being Airbus and various international banks. 33% of trainees did one, according to our figures.
The 30 UK trainees are split across London, Watford and Milton Keynes (with the majority in the former office, which though well-located with a lovely view of the Old Bailey’s Lady of Justice sculpture, apparently “needs a refurb”). Their training experience is A-rated in our new survey. “Excellent quality of work and supervision”, reports one rookie, while another trainee tells us they received “sufficient responsibility with plenty of support”.
In other categories, the firm is a solid if not stellar performer. On quality of work, partner approachability and work/life balance, the Dentons experience is said to very much “depend on the supervisor and the department”.
Practice area-wise, Dentons’ London office has a history of expertise in the slightly unlikely combination of banking & finance and media law (thanks to an earlier merger). These strengths endure, but part of the deal of being a global megafirm is that you have lawyers for everything and this looks like very much the direction of travel for Dentons.
Perks, meanwhile, are fairly numerous, and include free breakfasts before 8:30am in the “dirt cheap” firm canteen, reduced price cinema tickets, reduced price flights and sporting events, like touch rugby, with a budget afterwards for food and drinks. These are generally appreciated by staff. There are also quirkier activities like pumpkin carving competitions and hiking weekends. A pay rise a year previously to £65,000 for newly qualified solicitors, and £44,000 in Watford and Milton Keynes, may come under pressure if the wave of City law pay inflation continues.
The other area in which Dentons has been generating headlines this year is with its Nextlaw Labs project to incubate lawtech start-ups. The artificial intelligence and machine-learning-linked projects sound exciting, but it’s still early days, and while trainees look on with interest the B grade they have awarded their firm for tech-savvy in this year’s survey suggests that there may be some work to do first on improving the standard IT systems. Doubtless that will come at a firm that doesn’t seem to have plans to stand still.