Dentons merges with China’s Dacheng to become the biggest law firm ever to grace the planet

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By Judge John Hack on

London firm quiet on prospects for trainees in wake of China merger

Planet earth

Its economy may have shuddered to its slowest pace of growth in nearly a quarter century, but western law firms are still keen on a slice of China.

The latest in the take-away queue is that already amorphous amalgam of a law firm known as Dentons, which is reported today to have jumped into bed with not just any old player from the Orient, but China’s biggest domestic law firm Dacheng.

The groundbreaking deal will reportedly create the largest law firm in the world — cue dancing in the streets everywhere — with a team sheet of some 6,500 lawyers based in around 50 offices. That’s a big crowd for the annual law firm dim sum lunch.

What does the creation of such a global behemoth mean for law students and potential trainees? Surely, with such a large international footprint — and a presence in what many expect to be the biggest world economy in the next decade or so – Dentons Dacheng must be gearing up to offer training contracts by the barrel load.

Currently Dentons offers 24 training contracts annually, 20 at its Fleet Place glamour offices in the City, and four out with the cow sculputures in even more glamorous Milton Keynes. Indeed, it must have been that MK presence that convinced the big swingers in Beijing that Dentons was the western firm it wanted.

But we’ll have to wait and see whether this landmark deal provides a bonanza of training contracts. While news of the merger has broken in the UK legal press, the London side of the firm is keeping its cards tucked inside its shirt.

A London-based spokeswoman said the firm was not yet even in a position to release a statement on the merger itself, far less on whether hordes of new trainees can expect to be posted to the mysterious east.

Regardless, increasingly the message for wannabe lawyers is that they had better start getting their heads round China pretty sharpish if they fancy careers in the City of London. While economic growth in the country last year slowed, it was still nearly 7.5%.

Illustrating the point in the legal sector a couple of days before Dentons became the biggest law firm ever to grace the planet, magic circle players Linklaters announced that an ability to speak fluent Mandarin was a skill that would put trainees above the crowd.

The firm is offering three “native level Mandarin-speaking” undergraduates or graduate diploma in law students training contracts during which they will split their time between Blighty and “one or more of our offices in China”.

A firm spokeswoman confirmed to Legal Cheek that Mandarin proficiency — in other words, something more than being able to put on a Peter Sellars/Kato Fong-style voice — would be the main criterion for bagging one of the TCs.

Links’ graduate recruitment partner explained the rationale:

“A lot of globally-minded, talented Mandarin speaking students come to the UK to study. They often want to go on to experience life in both London and China. Being able to accommodate this is great experience for the individuals and beneficial for the firm.

“We need to recruit people with the skills and experience to match the needs of our clients. Our China-London training contract is a forward thinking programme which will help us achieve that.”