Dechert’s interesting range of practice areas marks 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.
After a 2021 that saw the firm celebrate its best year on record – after profits soared a whopping 50% – Dechert’s global revenues and profit per equity partner (PEP) are both down in the most recent financial year. PEP sits at $3.6 million (£2.7 million), a reduction of 14%, while revenues dipped from $1.34 billion (£1 billion) to $1.28 billion (£998 million). It was mixed fortunes for the Philadelphia-based outfit in London, with its funds and commercial litigation groups remaining strong, but the corporate practice, like many of its rivals, encountering a slight downturn in demand. The firm’s juniors, however, remain among the most highly remunerated in the City: £55,000 as a year two trainee, rising to a staggering £145,000 upon qualification.
Despite the financial blip, the firm continues to work on some big (big!) deals. Highlights this year include advising on the $1.6 billion financing of Brazil’s largest domestic airline and leading on the Kingdom of Morocco’s $2.5 billion dual Eurobond issuance. But it’s not all billion-dollar deals. A team of Dechert lawyers helped secure £800,000 in damages for victims of the Beirut port explosion, which killed 218 people and caused more than $15 billion in property damage.
The firm offers up to 11 training contracts in its London hub and with 21 offices worldwide, Dechert has an international vibe. A notable selling point for students is the strong chance of doing an international secondment that the firm offers to its trainees. Destinations include the short hop across the Irish Sea to the firm’s Dublin office as well as more far-flung spots such as Brussels, Luxembourg and even Dubai. There’s also the odd client secondment, with rookies in years gone by spending time with a top venture capital outfit, and even jetting off to sunny Toulouse with the leading airline manufacturer Airbus.
Like many of its US rivals, Dechert has tightened its belt in response to a slowdown in demand in some areas and wider “market challenges”. This saw the firm embark on a redundancy consultation with lawyers and support staff in London, as part of an effort to reduce its global headcount by 5%. The cuts impacted 55 lawyers and 43 business professionals globally.
“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 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 among trainees. It is never competitive, and we are all very open about seeking support and celebrating each other’s successes. It is a real privilege to work alongside such people,” one mole tells Legal Cheek. “There is a real collegiate approach among 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” 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 north of £140k as an NQ, what do you expect?
But aside from this hefty 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. The “best” perk is the firm’s electric car scheme, according to one rookie, “but that is only available to associates”. Overall, the situation “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 into very soon. 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 among the rest of the ranks for the “tired” current office on Queen Victoria Street. “Not so impressive now”, says one, “but will be when we move”.
Dechert’s WFH approach, while 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 (laptops, headsets etc.), 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.