DWF Group Plc’s float on the London Stock Exchange in March 2019 made it the largest listed law firm — with a valuation of £366 million.
Since then the firm has reported double digit revenue growth, with revenue rising by 15% to £272 million. But profit after tax is down by 42% to £12.2 million, partly thanks to the chunky £12.6 million cost of going public. It’s also worth noting that DWF has paid off £19 million of debt this year.
Now that it’s on the stock exchange, DWF’s profit per equity partner (PEP) figure is hard to determine, but a sense of what it pays those at the top can be found in the basic salaries of group CEO Andrew Leaitherland and chief financial officer Christopher Stefani of £530,000 and £320,000 respectively. The firm doesn’t disclose newly qualified solicitor salaries.
Certainly it’s hard not to be impressed by DWF’s ambition. Under Leaitherland — who became the youngest managing partner of any major law firm when he took the DWF helm in 2006 aged just 36 — the firm has been on an incredible journey which has seen it absorb a host of rival outfits and go from being a relatively obscure regional player to a national giant which everyone has heard of.
Handling such expansion is notoriously difficult. If Leaitherland is to be remembered as a great leader in the mould of former DLA Piper boss Nigel Knowles (the man behind perhaps the most incredible law firm growth story in history), he will have to continue forging a collective identity out of a host of large regional offices which do a lot of higher volume insurance work with a London base that aspires to go head-to-head with the City’s finest on corporate and banking work. Perhaps this is why Leaitherland went out and recruited Knowles himself, bringing in the retired corporate law legend as chairman in 2017.
An interesting challenge is the firm’s international strategy. DWF only launched its first international office, in Dubai, in 2015. Four years later, after a series of mergers and acquisitions it has bases in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Qatar, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the US. The firm’s most recent move in this respect is its May 2019 launch in Poland after it acquired K&L Gates’ former Warsaw office. DWF also has exclusive associations with firms based in Argentina, Colombia, Panama, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey and across the US.
With so much activity showing that DWF is clearly a law firm going places, morale is good. “Most of my fellow trainees are lovely and we all offer support to one another,” one insider tells us, while another adds: “Helped each other through the NQ process and hold regular karaoke de-briefs.” Partners, meanwhile, are “generally very approachable”. “I have never felt I couldn’t speak to someone more senior about an issue,” another DWF trainee tells us.
Work/life balance is a particular strong point in London, where regional-ish hours are remunerated at City levels, albeit at the lower end of that spectrum. Even in departments known for their long hours DWF rookies say they mostly get away at a reasonable rime: “Despite being in a banking seat, almost always out by 6:30-7.”
Perks vary according to location, with highlights including the firm’s ‘Friday fridge’ (containing free alcohol and nibbles on the last Friday of every month) and, for those in the capital, access to the Walkie Talkie skygarden and stunning views from the building’s 32nd floor. More mundanely, the private medical insurance is highlighted as being particularly comprehensive, covering spouses and partners as well as the lawyers themselves.
Another strong point is the firm’s successful embrace of technology, with DWF receiving an A* in this category of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey for three years running following a £12 million investment in its IT systems. On the ground, trainees note that the firm is “constantly updating our systems” while “utilising IT in effective ways”, with things like virtual conferencing, IT-assisted drafting and AI-driven document review all actively encouraged.
Unlike at many firms, the developments in tech seem to already be having a direct impact on trainees, who report “very few [admin tasks] due to Knowledge Services and Facilities support. “This means trainees are free to focus on really good work, such as site visits, client meetings, interviews and drafting key documents for transactions or court proceedings,” one tells us. Another adds: “You generally are not expected to spend time on admin tasks, with dedicated admin teams and PAs to support you.”
Potential applicants should also note that DWF offers a high number of client secondments to trainees, with over a quarter spending time with a client — in most cases an insurance company or bank. But note that international secondments are practically non-existent.