The Legal Cheek View
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 outfit last year suffered a 5.7% revenue drop, falling from $1.14 billion to $1.07 billion (£766 million). It has since bounced back, with revenues rising a whopping 25% to $1.34 billion (£999 million).
Profit per equity partner (PEP) has followed suit, rocketing to a record $4.2 million (£3.1 million). The firm also recently moved NQ rates from £125,000 to £145,000. Dechert’s CEO, Henry Nassau, hailed the firm’s financial performance as “one for the history books” — and going off the latest figures, it’s clear to see why.
The firm offers 11 training contracts in its London hub and with over 20 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. As one rookie puts it, “the training (formal and informal) have been structured, frequent, encouraged and valuable”. But in the typical style of a US law firm, there is more of a focus on the informal, on-the-job training. “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”. And thanks to the four-month, rather than the more usual six-month seats, trainees have to “be able to learn on the job quickly”.
As with any firm, the level of training and type of work given to trainees “differs by department and supervisor”. But this doesn’t stop the Dechert rookies from scoring the stimulating nature of their work highly. Whilst one spy tells Legal Cheek that “sometimes the work you do is admin heavy or not very interesting”, another adds that “trainees are entrusted with higher levels of responsibility and intricacy over the course of each seat”. The firm’s funds practice earns a special shout-out from one of the trainees due to the level of responsibility and client contact afforded to the newbies, which has “really added to my training contract experience”, as they put it.
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”.
Culture is one area where the firm scores especially highly this year. The comments from the trainees even border on the emotional, an unexpected trait in such high-flying lawyers! “There is an absolute culture of support amongst trainees. It is never competitive, and we are all very open about seeking support and celebrating each others’ successes. It is a real privilege to work alongside such people”, one mole tells Legal Cheek. “There is a real collegiate approach amongst the Trainees. We seem to have not cultivated a competitive culture unlike some of our peer firms”, another reports. As for the approachability of superiors, the trainees are mildly more cautious, but still give a glowing review: “everyone is highly approachable and there is a culture of no question being a silly one to ask. Some partners are naturally more intimidating than others, but truly unapproachable individuals are outliers”.
But dry those eyes, because we’re moving onto a less emotive topic: work/ life balance. As an American firm, expectations of such a balance are inevitably lowered — and trainees will know what they’re signing up for. This is perhaps why one junior lawyer rather tastefully describes their work/life balance as being “limited” during the week. Happily, “weekends are usually free” (but “isn’t unheard of”), and there’s “no presenteeism” culture. If the work is done, you are more than welcome to clock off early. Overall, this leaves trainees feeling relatively happy with their work/ life balance. As one trainee sums up, “for a US firm, the work/life balance is eminently reasonable”. Not exactly the highest praise around, but when you’re earning £145,000 as an NQ, what do you expect?
But aside from this eye-watering salary, the perks don’t rate that highly with the trainees. The firm offers the usual health and dental care options, discounted gym membership, free fruit and even pecan pie on Thanksgiving- and that’s about it, according to the rookies. Overall, they describe the situation as “could be better”.
“Could be better” is a phrase also used by the junior lawyers when asked about legal tech at the firm. Investments into “basic legal tech” have been made, but there is far from an ethos of continuing improvement in this area. “While our head of innovation is exceptional, there is little in the way of a culture of innovation or technical modernity. It is an area the firm could put more effort into”, one spy laments. The “bad and cheap Samsungs” offered by the firm are at least balanced by a “generous” BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy.
The rookies are far more optimistic, however, about the firm’s new “breathtaking” office which they will be moving to in early 2023. This move has been gratefully received. Whilst one trainee does describe their fondness for “the homey old office aesthetic”, there appears to be little love lost amongst the rest of the ranks for the “tired” current office. The glowing reports of the new office are certainly exciting though, and until the move, trainees can always work from home a bit more. Dechert’s WFH approach, whilst criticised during the pandemic for offering little to no support with home set-ups, appears to be better received nowadays. Not only do new trainees receive WFH equipment automatically at the start of their TC, the firm’s 50/50 office/ home policy apparently “works very well”. However, the arrangement for reimbursement of any further WFH items could do with further improvement, according to reports.