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 (MMS), which took place in late 2017. It seems to be going nicely, helping bring about strong rises in Dentons’ UK and Middle East turnover and profit per equity partner (PEP). The former is up by 12% to £229.8 million this year following a 22% rise last year, while PEP edged up 4% to £676,00 after surging 36% immediately after the MMS merger.
The positive financials come as the firm takes a breather after a frenetic period of merger activity, and focuses on integrating its much-expanded practice. Still, there has been expansion, particularly in Africa, with new office openings in Kenya, Mauritius and Zimbabwe.
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 170 offices in over 70 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 consistently highly rated in the 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.
A pay rise this year to £75,000 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. 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.” The rest of the firm’s UK offices are said to be more impressive, although not all have canteens.
Previously the biggest gripe has been lack of international secondment opportunities — surprising for such an international firm — but these now appear to be on the rise, with short trips abroad also a thing for trainees. About 20% of Dentons’ young have had some form of travel during their TC.
Client secondments are common, with just under 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 generate 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. “They are really into innovation and developing new products. They do invest heavily to help us work more efficiently,” one trainee tells us.