Meet Dechert at the Legal Cheek UK Virtual Law Fair on 4 November 2021
Dechert’s interesting range of practice areas mark it out from the more exclusively finance-focused London offices of some other US firms. The structure of the six seat training contract enables trainees to sample the firm’s strengths in international and EU trade, as well as Dechert’s highly-regarded white collar crime practice.
Following two years of phenomenal growth, which saw Dechert smash through the $1 billion (£760 million) revenue barrier for the first time, the Philadelphia-based firm has this year suffered a 5.7% revenue drop, falling from $1.14 billion to $1.07 billion (£766 million). Profit per equity partner (PEP) has followed suit, down from a record $3 million to $2.8 million (£2 million). That PEP, however, is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, being on par with if not slightly greater than Dechert’s Magic Circle rivals. The same is true of the firm’s NQ salary of £125,000 that comes in comfortably above Magic Circle and Silver Circle rates.
It is important to put this year’s weaker financials in perspective. Dechert has seen a steady decade of growth, averaging around 5% per year and considers itself the victim of the unfortunate timing of financial results: “the 2020 drag was caused for a couple of reasons in the first half of the year. Over 20 matters were postponed due to court closures and two huge litigation matters drew to a close at the same time”, said the firm’s CEO Henry Nassau, who expects to see these delayed payments boost results further down the road. However, there is no hiding from the fact that the firm, like many, has undergone a redundancy process for legal support staff in the City.
The firm offers 10 training contracts in its London hub and with nearly 30 offices worldwide, Dechert has an international vibe. A notable selling point for students is the very high chance of doing an international secondment that the firm offers to its trainees — stats from pre-Covid times indicate that more than half spend time abroad with the firm, albeit a fair few just making the hop over the Irish Sea to Dechert’s recently expanded office in Dublin. Other popular secondments include Brussels and Luxemburg, which were carried out virtually during the pandemic. There’s also the odd client secondment, with one trainee spending time with a top venture capital outfit, and even jetting off to sunny Toulouse with the leading airline manufacturer Airbus.
“A good mix of on the job training” coupled with “bespoke” induction sessions at the start of each seat goes some way to explaining the firm’s consistently strong performance in the training category of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. But in the typical style of a US law firm, “training is very hands-on rather than by way of lots of formal training sessions”, one insider reports, and “you are given as much responsibility as you can handle”.
As with any firm, this can vary from department to department, but the trainees who took part in Legal Cheek’s surveys gave Dechert top marks for the stimulating nature of their work. Although “menial tasks are inevitably present”, one rookie tells us that “associates and partners have gone out of their way to get my input on particularly challenging questions and decisions, adopting a ‘what would you do if you were in my situation?’ approach.”
We are told the vibe around the firm is pretty good, with a “close-knit” group of trainees that “won’t hesitate to help each other out when needed”. Another reports: “The other trainees are all very good. I’d not exactly say we are all friends, but we are pretty good at tolerating each other.” We are told partners are “generally very approachable”. A dress down policy that allows London-based lawyers to wear jeans to work any day of the week continues to give the firm a less formal feel.
Dechert does OK for work/life balance, which is reasonable considering how much it pays. The firm’s London lawyers arrive in the office on average just after 9am and leave around 9pm. Most rookies appreciate they’re getting a sweet deal, especially given the famous stereotype of baggy-eyed trainees working very long hours at US firms. “The work/life balance and respect for personal time is generally very good,” an insider tells us. “Trainees don’t mind working late when necessary, as they know they won’t be made to work longer hours than required when it is quieter.” However, this can vary across departments. “In some there is an expectation for you to make yourself available at any time, whereas in others […] late nights are only expected when urgent work arises”, we are told.
The transition to remote-working in response to the pandemic seems to have been a relatively smooth one. “Everything worked efficiently,” according to one rookie, “although it is very difficult to be ‘trained’ remotely — i.e. the benefit of sharing an office with a supervisor is noticeably lost.” Another describes the process as “pretty seamless”. The firm looks set to integrate WFH into its culture, recently announcing that from September it will allow its lawyers to split evenly their time working in the office and remotely. However, the lack of financial aid in setting up new home offices did elicit some complaints from newbies: “[Dechert] did not provide any equipment whatsoever … [it] only allowed chairs to be borrowed from the office very late into the pandemic”.
Meanwhile, the office, which is just a stone’s throw from the Thames, is described as “lovely” thanks in part to its “nice internal atrium”. Perks are not bad: there’s a new gym (although some feel it’s a little small), free fruit every day, health and dental insurance, and pecan pie on Thanksgiving. The trainee social scene is also said to have improved as of late, helped by some “quality” departmental and firm-wide events.