As an upstart northern firm that has relatively recently taken grand office space in London’s Walkie Talkie Building, DWF attracts its fair share of sniping. Certainly, some poor recent financial performances haven’t helped the firm’s cause – with global revenue falling this year by 2% despite continuing expansion.
At the same time, it’s impossible not to be impressed by DWF’s ambition. Under its chief Andrew Leaitherland – who became the youngest managing partner of any major law firm when he took the 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 slightly obscure regional player to a national giant which everyone has heard of.
But now what? 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 forge 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 September 2017.
One of the most pressing challenges is the firm’s international strategy. DWF opened its first overseas office in Dubai in 2015 in a bid to internationalise its real estate practice. And this year it expanded its team in the emirate while also launching a partnership with Saudi law firm Harasani & Alkhamees, building out its Middle East capability. In addition, in mid-2017 DWF launched in Singapore 2017 after hiring a four-partner team who had previously worked at Eversheds Sutherland. Then there has been the firm’s recent move into the US and Australia via its acquisition of claims firm Triton Global, which it saved from administration. The expansion jars with the aforementioned drop in wider firm revenue.
Despite the fact that DWF is very much a work in progress, morale among its trainees and junior lawyers is reasonable, with the firm scoring adequately for peer support and partner approachability. 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.
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 a strong score in this category of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 following a recent £12million investment in its IT systems.
Potential applicants should also consider that DWF offers among the most client secondments to trainees of the major firms, with 36% spending time with a client – in most cases an insurance company or bank. But note that international secondments are currently not offered by the firm.