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 1% from £221.1 million to £223.2 million, whilst the firm’s most recently released profit per equity partner figure that dates back to 2019 was £670,000.
The flat financials come as the firm takes a breather after an initial frenetic period of merger activity. Like many firms, pandemic disruption has led to cuts with Dentons shuttering two of its UK outposts, Aberdeen and Watford in 2020, with all staff working from home on a permanent basis, and recently completing a redundancy consultation that saw 85 roles axed across its UK, Ireland and Middle East arm. That said, there has been plenty of expansion in recent times, with around 20 new office openings being announced in 2020 in locations such as New Zealand, Uruguay, Argentina, Ireland as well as several African countries.
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 48 UK trainees are split across London 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 facelift”), alongside the firm’s Scottish offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Their training experience is consistently highly rated in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. “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”. 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”. One insider told us this: “I have been very impressed with the attitude and approachability of everyone at Dentons. Superiors are always happy to find time to support, answer questions, take time for a chat etc. Even when incredibly busy, I have always felt that superiors will make time for you if you need it”.
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 “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, hiking weekends and even a Zoom call with a comedian which apparently helped ease the lockdown blues.
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. The Milton Keynes gaff has also just been refurbished and we are told there is a good provision of meeting space, open plan desks and a kitchen area.
Previously the biggest gripe has been the lack of international secondment opportunities — perhaps surprising for such an international firm. But this does, however, appear to be changing, with sun-soaked destinations including Doha, Madrid and Toulouse and even some short trips abroad becoming a common feature for trainees in recent times. And it’s even better news for those wishing to undertake client secondments, with nearly half 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. 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. “Very good investment in programs to help staff and a good IT department,” one source explains.