The Legal Cheek View
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. In its latest set of financial results for its offices in the UK, Ireland and Middle East, Denton’s revenue grew by 14% from £229.1 million to £260.4 million, whilst the firm’s most recently released profit per equity partner figure that dates back to 2019 was £670,000.
This year’s strong financials have proved that last year’s 1% growth in revenue was little more than a breather after an initially frenetic period of merger activity. Around 20 new office openings were announced in 2020 in locations such as New Zealand, Uruguay, Argentina, Ireland as well as several African countries, although pandemic disruption led Dentons to close two of its UK outposts, Aberdeen and Watford. But Dentons’ CEO Paul Jarvis who took the reins last year wants to take this further with plans to help Dentons partners to develop relationships across its various geographies, practices and sectors.
What got all this underway was, of course, Dentons’ 2015 mega-merger 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 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 overall has been very good,” 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”.
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,” an insider explains. Another offers a similar experience: “once you prove you are capable, you are given increasingly interesting work and more responsibility. Supervisors are usually very fair and listen to you if there are specific areas you want more experience in”. And we are told the nature of the work concerns matters of “high-value and of high importance” — the sort of stuff that is “regularly featured in the news”.
Trainees are apparently “very friendly” and offer each other a “great support network”. “All trainees are so supportive and friendly — could not wish for a better bunch of people to ride the highs and lows of a training contract out with,” gushes one. There is said to be a good social scene at most offices, and regular after work drinks. Partners are “generally all very approachable”, especially to those who are “open and proactive”. Seniors are keen for trainees to ask questions and share their thoughts and opinions on the matters at hand: “The head of my department specifically asked me to push back on his comments if I disagreed with him — I really feel like my input is valued and appreciated.”
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 before 8:30am in the “highly subsidised” 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 as well as the more standard private healthcare and gym subsidies. However, 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!”.
Another plus is that the work/life balance is 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”.
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.” 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 is moving to a new Edinburgh outfit in Haymarket Square in October.
Previously the biggest gripe has been the lack of international secondment opportunities — perhaps surprising for such an international firm. Last year there were some signs that this may be changing, with trainees jetting off to sun-soaked destinations including Doha, Madrid and Toulouse and even some short trips abroad becoming a common feature of a TC at Dentons. However, there were no such tales this year. 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.
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.