One of the world’s largest law firms 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 (MMS), which took place in late 2017. In its latest set of financial results for its offices in the UK, Ireland and Middle East, Denton’s revenue grew by 2% from £260.4 million to £265.1 million amid challenging market conditions — and while a more modest figure compared to last year’s 14% uptick, it remains the global behemoth’s second-best year on record.
Dentons’ UK and Middle East CEO Paul Jarvis noted the importance of the firm’s five-year strategy, unveiled in 2022, aiming to help the firm improve its relationships across its various geographies, practices and sectors. To this end, the firm has made 27 lateral and internal partner hires to bolster its Dublin and Middle East practices, as well as bringing in a London partner from rival firm Eversheds.
What got all this underway was, of course, Dentons’ 2015 mega-merger with one of the biggest law firms in China, Dacheng (although Dentons has announced a split from Dacheng on account of the Chinese government’s new data security regulations). 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 180 offices in over 70 countries and counting — and global turnover, according to its most recently available figures, of $2.9 billion (£2.1 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, Mongolia and Wuhan in China. Closer to home, Dentons has offices in Milton Keynes and Glasgow as well as a big City of London base. What does this all mean for students contemplating applying to the firm?
Well, be in 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 UK trainees are split across the Central Belt (Edinburgh and Glasgow), London and Milton Keynes. Around 20 go to the London office, which, though well-located with a lovely view of the Old Bailey’s Lady of Justice sculpture, apparently “needs a facelift”, whilst five are allocated to Milton Keynes. The firm’s 10 trainees in Scotland spend time in both Edinburgh, which boasts some scenic views of the city’s castle, and Glasgow.
Their training experience is consistently highly rated in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. It consists of “very good exposure to high calibre clients and deals”, “supportive mentors and colleagues who take time to address questions and issues” and “plenty of online courses/modules you can do to supplement your learning.” “The training is rigorous and the firm emphasises continuous learning,” reports one rookie, who explains “on top of the high level of responsibility you can obtain in your day-to-day work Dentons provides fantastic weekly training sessions geared towards trainees across all areas of law”. However, insiders also note that like with many big firms, department-specific training can sometimes vary from seat to seat.
In other categories, the firm is a solid performer. On quality of work, it is reported as “overall very stimulating” with fee earners being “helpful in terms of providing more stimulating work”. One rookie finds that while “the work is often very interesting with tasks you can get really stuck into, at other times, it is often admin-heavy”. Although work can be “varied and cross-border”, this appears to be highly department-dependent. A couple of trainees find that “high quality work is sporadic with most work being small tasks”, and another grumbles about “way too many blogs and BD work”. On the flipside, supervisors are generally very receptive, and “once you prove you are capable, you are given increasingly interesting work and more responsibility”.
Trainees are apparently “really supportive and willing to help each other out”. Everyone is described as “really friendly”, and the lack of a competitive vibe certainly helps given gripes about a “pretty unnecessarily intense NQ process”. Complementing this, rookies also rate the approachability of their superiors highly. One reports on having “hands-on supervision from partners in every team” and always feeling able to ask questions, no matter how simple. The overall office culture is “approachable, supportive and friendly”, although supervisors might be “hard to get a hold of” occasionally. Of course, there is the occasional “harsh” partner, but this is the exception, rather than the rule, in a generally “helpful and welcoming” environment.
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 a concierge service, free breakfasts on Monday before 8:30am in the “highly subsidised” firm canteen, free drinks on Thursdays, reduced price cinema tickets, reduced price flights and sporting events, like touch rugby, with a budget afterwards for food and drinks. These come alongside the more standard private healthcare and gym subsidies (£20 only, a grumble amongst some), but trainees generally find the perks to be standard and “nothing really innovative”. One was left reeling by the firm’s gift to NQs: “feel they could have done better than a water bottle as post-qualification gift!”.
Perks aside, a massive plus is the work/life balance which is said to be pretty good. “When things get busy it can begin to slip but on the whole, it is well balanced and I don’t regularly find myself working later into the evenings or weekends,” says one insider, with another claiming “most teams have been about 9am to 6.30pm”. Another rookie does warn this can vary between departments: “It massively depends on the seat. In my first contentious seat, I worked very long hours, whereas in other departments, I have worked much less. I have found that during busy periods and longer hours I’m not alone, and there is usually someone else in the team in the office or online when I am”.
The “dated” office in the capital continues to be a bugbear among the junior ranks. “At least one of the elevators breaks on a monthly basis,” notes one. A major renovation is in the pipeline, Legal Cheek’s spies tell us. Chief among the priorities is more showers — apparently there are currently only four in the whole building. A rookie reports: “Surprised that it has taken them this long to think about putting new showers in when you add up the cost of the several partners who I see there every morning queueing for a shower.” However, hopes are high for the firm’s move to One Liverpool Street in the next few years, so hopefully, positive changes are on the horizon. The rest of the firm’s UK offices are said to be more impressive, although not all have canteens. Elsewhere, the Milton Keynes gaff has just been refurbished and we are told there is a good provision of meeting space, open plan desks and a kitchen area, whilst the firm’s new Edinburgh outpost in Haymarket Square is “well thought through” and “a nice working environment”.
Generally, the biggest gripe has been the lack of international secondment opportunities — perhaps surprising for such an international firm. Although two trainees reported jetting to Hong Kong and Toulouse for six months, the general view is that “there aren’t many international secondment opportunities”. There’s better news for those wishing to undertake client secondments though with around a third of juniors doing one. Destinations include AIG, Airbus and Network Rail, Dr Martens and NatWest. One trainee reports on issues with transparency in the firm’s secondment allocation process, and the seat rotation process more generally, a possible source of discontentment among rookies.
Dentons are pretty flexible on the WFH front, as one trainee reports: “The firm has a ‘Your Choice’ policy. This means there are no mandated days people have to come in. However, different teams have chosen ‘team days’ on which they encourage people to come into the office that day. It’s really great for socialising and team meetings. Personally, as a trainee, I am in most days of the week, but Mondays and Fridays are pretty quiet in the office”. The £250 budget for WFH equipment is found inadequate by some trainees, although others find it helpful to “get a good working from home setup”.
Another hot area for Dentons is tech — with its Nextlaw Labs project to incubate lawtech start-ups continuing to generate headlines. And a couple of years ago the firm went one better through the launch of a new incubator for ‘space tech’ start-ups. The firm has also been investing heavily in the latest lawtech, including improved time recording software, and is clearly keen on avoiding a problem that dogs many City law firms — nobody is familiar with the tech and knows how to use it. Trainees look on with interest at these projects and gadgets and unusually can really get involved. “We receive considerable IT and AI training and our firm is the first to offer a modernised training contract where we take part in a legal innovation project for each of our four seats,” says one spy. However, there remains variation between teams and partners on the extent to which the firm’s legal tech offerings are actually embraced.