In March 2019, DWF finalised long-mooted plans to reshape its business structure, completing a £366 million listing on the London Stock Exchange and becoming Big Law’s largest listed law firm.
Since then, DWF has continued to catch the industry’s attention. The firm’s first set of financial results after its listing saw revenue climb 15% to £272 million while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rose 9% to £33.6 million. Profit after tax, however, fell 42% to £12.2 million, demonstrating the cost of its 2019 listing.
More recently, DWF delivered a 10.9% increase in net revenue from £268.1 million to £297.2 million for the year to 30 April 2020, although gross profit dropped marginally by 0.8% from £143.4 million to £142.2 million. The firm does not disclose its newly-qualified solicitors’ salaries, but trainees in London can start on £38,000 or between £22,000 and £26,000 in the regions.
DWF underwent an ambitious period of geographic expansion last year, acquiring K&L Gates’ 11-partner Warsaw office for £3 million as well as completing a £42.5 million deal for Spanish law firm Rousaud Costas Duran. The firm would later open its fourth German base in Dusseldorf in October 2019, acquiring corporate boutique Marccus Partners.
All this comes despite only launching its first international office, in Dubai, in 2015, and since then the firm has launched other bases in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the US. The firm also enjoys exclusive associations with firms based in Argentina, Colombia, Panama, South Africa, and Turkey.
DWF’s post-listing momentum was not just confined to geographic expansion; the firm has also made significant New Law plays in a bid to further realise its ambitious vision. Most notably, in July 2019 DWF secured a profile-boosting five-year managed legal services mandate for BT’s insurance and real estate work. The firm later completed the acquisitions of BT’s alternative business structure, BT Law, and US-based legal and managed services business Mindcrest. DWF’s New Law ambitions are reflected in its internal embrace of technology: “We have excellent legal tech,” boasts one insider. “We have developed a number of different softwares over the last few years which are really efficient for carrying out tasks e.g. DWF draft which takes the form of specially created questionnaires that once completed populate a draft based on the answers you have given.”
However, the firm’s initial post-listing vigour has suffered a series of setbacks in recent months. In March of this year, the firm warned that the economic chaos inflicted by COVID-19 would have a significant impact on its profits — prompting the firm to enter talks with its lenders to extend its £80 million credit facility. Later, in May, DWF announced it was dispensing with the services of its long-term leader Andrew Leaitherland, who had spearheaded the firm throughout its lengthy and complex listing process. He was replaced by firm chair and former DLA Piper boss Sir Nigel Knowles.
Such has been the economic hit, the firm announced in June that it would be aborting planned expansions in Asia and Europe, while cutting 60 staff members. The firm is hoping to make £23.5 million in cost savings by the end of the 2021/22 financial year, with further scale-backs seemingly inevitable. The hope for DWF is that, under Knowles’ leadership — which helped shape DLA Piper’s remarkable global rise — the firm’s long-term future can match its post-listing imagination.
Despite the recent tribulations, insiders at the firm still report DWF as an excellent place to undergo your legal training. “My training experience so far at DWF has been excellent,” says one trainee. “The firm creates a very supportive working environment which facilitates trainee learning and development.”
And while the COVID-19 crisis has caused financial hardship for DWF, there is no indication internally that the firm has struggled to adapt to new working practices. “I think our firm has adapted excellently and did so almost overnight,” says another responder. “There has been great use of Microsoft calls to keep colleagues and teams connected. Overall, there has been a real effort to mirror the working environment experienced in the office.”
And when office working returns, you can expect a good level of work/life balance, with most people out of the office around 18:30. One insider says: “I have never worked past about 7pm, and there is no expectation to be at your desk all hours of the day if your work is done.” Another adds: “There will be times where you are expected to work late but this is not the norm and in general I would say the firm is very good at ensuring employees have a good work/life balance.”
Potential applicants should note, however, the work itself is more variable. Trainees report that quality work is dependent on the practice group, but most agree “there are some real opportunities to get involved in some incredibly good work.” Regardless of recent challenges, DWF remains one of the legal industry’s more interesting propositions.