The world’s largest law firm by headcount, Dentons has grown rapidly over recent years via a series of tie-ups. The most significant for the firm’s UK practice has been the merger with elite four-office Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens, which took place in July 2017. It seems to be bedding in nicely, helping bring about the sharp rises in Dentons’ UK and Middle East turnover and profit per equity partner (PEP) this year. The former is up by 22% to £203.1 million, while PEP has grown 36% to reach £651,000 – erasing and much more last year’s 9% fall.
The excellent financials come as the firm takes a breather after a frenetic period of merger activity, and focuses on integrating its much-expanded practice. Alongside the Maclay Murray & Spens deal, the last few years have seen combinations with Dutch outfit Boekel and Central American firm Munoz Global, and strategic alliances with Vella Pugliese Buosi Guidoni, of Brazil, and Peru’s Gallo Barrios Pickmann.
What got all this underway was, of course, Dentons’ 2015 megamerger with one of the biggest law firms in China, Dacheng. Other recent bolt-ons to what until as recently as 2010 was London corporate outfit Denton Wilde Sapte include major practices from the US, Canada and France. That’s why, in case you were wondering, Dentons has more than 80 offices in over 50 countries and counting – and global turnover of over $2 billion. Among these are some of the most interestingly located bases of any international firm, with outposts for example in Turkmenistan, the Cape Verde Islands and Mongolia. Closer to home, Dentons has offices in Milton Keynes and Watford as well as a big City of London base.
What does this all mean for students contemplating applying to the firm?
Well, there is no doubt that Dentons is going places, and it promises to be an exciting journey. But it’s also true that much of the international growth is unlikely to have a huge impact on the training contract experience for now – which remains essentially that of a long-established City law firm with a good record for bringing through junior lawyers.
The 30 UK trainees are split across London, Watford and Milton Keynes (with the majority in the former office, which though well-located with a lovely view of the Old Bailey’s Lady of Justice sculpture, apparently “needs a refurb”), alongside the firm’s Scottish offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Their training experience is A-rated in the 2018-19 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey “Excellent quality of work and supervision”, reports one rookie, while another trainee tells us they received “sufficient responsibility with plenty of support”. But experiences do vary according to department and office.
In other categories, the firm is a solid performer. On quality of work, “there can be bits and pieces of admin, but more often the work is substantial, interesting and challenging”. Trainees are apparently very friendly and offer each other a “great support network”. There is said to be a good social scene at most offices, and regular after work drinks. Partners are more of a mixed bag, but most are approachable and friendly. “I play table tennis with the partners at lunch,” one rookie tells us.
Practice area-wise, Dentons’ London office has a history of expertise in the slightly unlikely combination of banking & finance and media law (thanks to an earlier merger). These strengths endure, but part of the deal of being a global megafirm is that you have lawyers for everything and this looks like very much the direction of travel for Dentons.
Perks, meanwhile, are fairly numerous, and include free breakfasts before 8:30am in the “dirt cheap” firm canteen, reduced price cinema tickets, reduced price flights and sporting events, like touch rugby, with a budget afterwards for food and drinks. These are generally appreciated by staff. There are also quirkier activities like pumpkin carving competitions and hiking weekends, which are usually well received. But this year’s Scottish summer party – styled as the ‘Dentons Highland Games’ – elicited rather mixed reviews.
A pay rise this year to £70,000 for newly qualified solicitors in London has been welcomed by those who benefitted from it, but they continue to complain about the “dated” office in the capital. “There’s a plaque for Best Office 1995 in the lobby,” notes one. The rest of the firm’s UK offices are said to be more impressive, although not all have canteens.
Probably the biggest gripe this year is lack of international secondment opportunities. In view of Dentons’ massive global coverage many join hoping for some travel, but after rising last year placement opportunities abroad have fallen back again. “For a firm with so many offices abroad the chances to go on international secondment are dire,” one trainee reports.
Happily, client secondments are very common, with over a third of juniors doing one. Destinations include Standard Chartered, PwC and the Government Legal Service.
Another hot area for Dentons is tech – with its Nextlaw Labs project to incubate lawtech start-ups continuing to gerenate headlines. In the last few months the firm has gone one better and launched a new incubator for ‘space tech’ start-ups. Trainees look on with interest at these projects but to date haven’t had much involvement. They have, however, noted that the firm has been investing heavily in the latest lawtech, including improved time recording software. The next step will hopefully be “investment from the firm to integrate the tech” one insider tells us.