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. The sustained growth isn’t replicated in the firm’s latest set of financial results, with revenue in the UK and Middle East down 4% to £221.1 million as a result of the challenging market conditions created by the pandemic. Profit per equity partner (PEP), meanwhile, is understood to sit at around £670,000.
The flat 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. But there has been some consolidation too. Dentons recently shuttered two of its UK outposts, Aberdeen and Watford, in response to the rise in remote working in the wake of COVID-19.
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 of over $2 billion (£1.54 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, 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 40 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, while another trainee tells us they received “a wide insight into each practice area by working on a variety of different types of deals.” 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,’ 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.”
Trainees are apparently “very friendly” and offer each other a “great support network”. There is said to be a good socially distant social scene at most offices, and regular after work drinks. Partners are more of a mixed bag, but most are approachable and friendly. “Have genuinely never worried about walking into anyone’s office,” one insider reports. “You hear about this a lot before you start, but it’s nice to have actually experienced such a friendly workplace.”
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 and hiking weekends, which are usually well-received.
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.
Previously the biggest gripe has been the 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. This year 20% of Dentons’ young reported undertaking some form of travel during their TC. Sun-soaked destinations include Doha, Madrid and Toulouse.
Client secondments are common, with over 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. 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. “Plenty of software products,” one source explains, although some “hardware could do with updating.”