Two already huge London megalaw firms are set to get even bigger

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By Katie King on

Dentons to reach the 100 office mark, as Eversheds gears up to crack the US


UK commercial law giants Dentons and Eversheds have set their sights on international domination, with each of the firms pursuing separate mergers that could propel them to Coca-Cola and Pepsi levels of ubiquity.

The duo have expanded their cross-border reach dramatically over recent years, with Dentons’ growth being led by a recent tie-up with giant Chinese law firm Dacheng, which followed three successive mergers with French, Canadian and US firms. Meanwhile, Eversheds is being guided by what it terms a “2020 Vision” that has seen new outposts established across Africa and Europe.

And now both firms are set to get even bigger.

Dentons — which is now almost unrecognisable from its pre-2010 merger spree guise as Denton Wilde Sapte — has recently unveiled its new business venture, announcing a proposed three-way combination with Gadens, an Australian firm, and Rodyk & Davidson, a Singaporean firm.

Eversheds — which was forged over 20 years as a re-branded combination of lots of little national practices but is now a global megafirm — wants to hook up with US practice Foley & Lardner.

Dentons, in particular, is experiencing an incredible journey. These days the former mid-tier City player is the firm with the largest number of lawyers in the world — although at under $1 billion (£648 million) revenue remains less than half that of planet leaders DLA Piper and Baker & McKenzie — and it has more than 80 offices in over 50 countries. This places it in line with DLA Piper and Bakers in terms of geographical spread.

Those Dentons offices, by the way, are situated in some of the world’s most obscure locations: Turkmenistan, the Cape Verde Islands and even Milton Keynes.

Now through its latest tie-up Dentons is set to expand across Asia Pacific and enter Australia for the first time. This will add a total of 700 lawyers from Gadens and Rodyk Davidson, and could take Dentons’ office-count to over 100 — more than any other firm.

The proposed merger will only get the go-ahead once it has been subject to a partner vote across all three firms, set to take place later this month. If approved, the integration will begin in early 2016.

Compared to Dentons, global commercial firm Eversheds, which has 55 offices in 28 countries, seems almost small. But add the 20 offices of US firm Foley & Lardner, which it is currently courting, and the firm will be close in size to the world’s very biggest in office-count terms. Revenue, however, will be a long way off. Last year Eversheds turned over £379 million (£585 million) while Foley & Lardner did $665 million (£431 million).

For now, the deal remains incomplete. Though a merger may well seem imminent, Eversheds — whose core practice areas include real estate, patents, and environmental law — is keeping its cards close to its chest. A firm spokesperson told Legal Week:

While we appreciate that there will be speculation on our progress, a number of options remain open to us and until we are clear on the way forward it would be wholly inappropriate to comment further.

If the merger happens, Eversheds will bolt on Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner’s multiple offices across North America, including Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Washington DC.

The ever-increasing scale of such firms may be an incentive to TC-hungry students keen to work for a growing international organisation, or a turn-off for those worried that size equates to facelessness. But students who land jobs at Dentons or Eversheds — which offer, respectively, 20 and 60 training contracts in the UK each year and by the accounts we have heard have pleasant London office cultures — at least have a high likelihood of getting to travel.