This Philadelphia-founded firm is charging forwards, and its London office is leading the pack with a reputation for funds and white-collar work.
Dech the halls
Money talks, the saying goes, and Dechert's London office is certainly in a chatty mood. Compared to the overall firm's modest revenue growth in 2016 (up 2.4%), the London office had a vintage year, posting a robust 19% increase. This healthy performance reflects the office's good track record of late, which has seen it grow in size, strength and importance within Dechert's international network of 28 offices (which recently grew thanks to a local affiliation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).
Back to London: as it pushed for growth in 2016, the office overhauled its management structure by ditching the single managing partner model in favour of a four-person leadership committee and an administrator. Lateral hires were also brought in from a number of competitors to bolster the office's private equity and finance capabilities. Training principal Jonathan Angell tells us the growth is evident in “different practice areas, but at Dechert everything is done in a very joined-up way; if we're taking people on it's all to complement the things we currently do.” What Dechert does particularly well – according to Chambers UK – is white-collar crime and investment funds (hedge funds in particular) work, for which it snags top-tier rankings. Angell adds: “What we achieve is better than the perception of us in the UK market. We're definitely punching above our weight, and I'd much rather have a situation where the perception still had to catch up to reality than the other way around.” While it's busy making a name for itself, you'll thank us for telling you that it's pronounced 'Deck-urt'.
For trainees, the chance to complete six seats instead of the usual four was a big pull-factor. They valued the chance to sample widely, with one joking: “I'm in my second seat now and already I feel like six isn't going to be enough!” A perceived benefit is that “it gives you the ability to problem-spot in your current seat as you've built up experience in other areas – you can ask 'have we considered this angle?'”
For their first stint trainees simply state whether they want a contentious or transactional seat, “so you might end up somewhere that surprises you.” From then on three preferences are submitted before each rotation, with interviewees telling us that “it's very likely you'll cover all of your preferences by the end of the training contract.” First-year trainees are required to complete both a contentious and transactional seat, before trying a niche seat in a smaller department (like IP, real estate or tax) or a secondment. Corporate is a popular transactional choice, while white-collar was in demand on the contentious side.
With its focus on asset management, the financial services department is one of the firm's most esteemed. You'll find a number of fund managers – like Cheyne, Sloane Robinson and Pradera – on the client roster; the team is particularly known for its hedge funds expertise, but also deals with private equity, closed and open-ended funds. Trainees told us that “we help to set up funds, and then provide ongoing advice on things like regulatory considerations.” A lot of the work is international “as the funds tend to have investors from different jurisdictions.” Dechert recently advised Pemberton Capital Advisors as it launched its European Mid-Market Debt Fund, which involved tax and regulatory advice related to Luxembourg, the US and the UK. The fund racked up a total of €1.2 billion in capital investment.
Trainees boasted about “getting to grips with fund-formation documents and prospectuses, drafting minutes and resolutions, and also working with a partner as they drafted – they explained why they were including certain provisions, and we could also suggest things to put in.” Drafting is one side of the equation, but project management is another: “We're given the responsibility to organise when things come in. We have status tables that chart whether CPs [conditions precedent] have been met or are awaiting work.” However, we did hear from some trainees that – compared to other departments – the role is “more ancillary. It's more difficult to get really involved in a transaction and be on it from beginning to end; sometimes you just do parts of the wider work without the context.”
The corporate and securities department is split into M&A, private equity and capital markets strands. Our sources had mostly picked up work on the M&A side, where Chambers UK singles out its mid-market work in particular. However, the team occasionally bags far larger deals. For example, it recently acted for London-based oil and gas company Chrysaor during its $3 billion acquisition of a bunch of assets owned by Shell UK. While financial services clients crop up a lot, the group also picks up work in the life sciences and TMT spheres (mobile network Orange is a key client), as well as matters tied to emerging markets: lawyers here advised real estate investment firm Kingdom Hotel Investments on the sale of its subsidiary, Société de L’Hotel Kingdom Lusaka, which owns the InterContinental Hotel Lusaka in Zambia. Trainees were happy not to have too much due diligence on their plate, and highlighted “a lot of project management work: I had counsel in Jersey, Luxembourg and Romania, so I co-ordinated everyone throughout to ensure they all knew what to do in order to bring the deal to a close. That also involved constantly updating checkl ists and emails.”
International disputes are a staple of Dechert's commercial litigation department. A recent case involved protecting FMC's (a US chemical company) confidential information during a case involving a Hong Kong-based claimant and an Austrian defendant; another saw the team act for Singaporean company Axle Holdings as it pursued claims against the vendors of a company it acquired for fraudulently misrepresenting information – the vendors are based in various countries, with proceedings brought in the UK and Delaware. Trainees reported “going to court to take notes on the judgment, as well as drafting letters and orders – the usual litigation stuff, but thankfully not just proof reading!” One trainee was happy that they'd “seen things progress right through from doc review to serving the evidence to polishing things up for the hearing.” Another told us they'd “drafted a few witness statements – if my supervisor had time he would give me the first go and then review it afterwards.” Once again the seat required trainees to co-ordinate all the moving parts, “so in the end you get a good overview of how everything fits together.”
“You're threading things together, weaving the elements of a story piece-by-piece.”
The white-collar and securities litigation department is a real doozy: its top ranking is earned thanks to its deft handling of cross-border criminal matters, sanctions compliance issues and allegations of market manipulation. “It's technically a litigation department, but litigation is less common – it's more advisory and investigative,” trainees revealed. “Clients come to us and say 'we may have breached regulations, we would like you to investigate.' So we do due diligence, go through emails and documents, and work out what happened and whether it needs to be reported.” One gleeful trainee informed us that “there's nothing common about this department! All the tasks are weird and wonderful.” Most do fall under the umbrella of “doc review” or research – but that applies to all sorts, “even Whatsapp messages.You're basically looking for anything that relates to the brief. You then highlight that to your seniors. You're threading things together, weaving the elements of a story piece-by-piece, which is interesting.” In some cases “there could be thousands of documents and you're the first person to see them. The responsibility falls on you to decide what is relevant.” As you can imagine, most cases here are confidential, but we can tell you that the team is currently representing Terence Watson – the president of Alstom's UK operations – during a long-running bribery investigation into the French rail and power company.
Those with a preference for smaller teams should consider real estate or employment. “In real estate the responsibility is very good. You're the only trainee there, so you get more hands-on experience in different areas like landlord and tenant, as well as sales and purchases.” In one trainee's experience, “it was half real estate and half corporate support work.That support work primarily consisted of due diligence on related transactions.” Employment trainees, meanwhile, experienced a mix of contentious and non-contentious work. A source recalled “writing advice letters to the client and going to employment tribunals; I helped out with the witnesses and took notes, which turned out to be important as cases progressed.” Clients here include Barbican Insurance, New York-headquartered financial services whiz BNY Mellon and book publisher The Folio Society.
During each seat trainees get a sense of how they're doing via mid and end-of-seat reviews. Mid-seats are quite informal: “You just have a chat with your supervisor about how it's all going and what you'd like to achieve. Generally if there are issues people don't wait until the reviews – there's a constant dialogue.” End-of-seat reviews require trainees to fill out a form beforehand. “You have to reflect on your work and the skills you've developed. Then you organise a formal meeting with your panel partner, who's assigned to you as a mentor when you start at the firm.” Beyond their mentor, interviewees reported finding help at every turn: “People's doors are always open, whether you want to talk about work or more pastoral issues. They'll take the time to answer your questions or point you in the right direction.”
All hands on Dechert
This informed trainees' riposte to the 'American firm' label and all of its burdensome baggage. “People have a stereotypical view of American firms, but we're nothing like it.” Others explained: “It definitely feels like an American firm in that the offices are great, the salary is great, and there's a lot of collaboration with the US offices – especially New York and Philadelphia – but in terms of people, everyone is very nice. I've had no issues with anyone.” Another source added that London “doesn't feel like a quiet outpost – it feels like a standalone office.” Crucially, “we're not working late nights for the fun of it. If nothing is going on I can leave at six; I'm not waiting for someone to maybe give me work.” That's not to say that the hours are a nine till six breeze. “If you're a trainee at a corporate law firm you're going to be working long hours sometimes,” sources reiterated, referencing prolonged spells of leaving after 8pm and very occasional all-nighters. These can lead to “being told to work from home for a day or two to chill out a bit!”
“First and foremost it's about bringing people together."
We did, however, hear that certain American traditions are upheld. “They ship in a load of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, which is a lovely touch!” In another nod to the stateside way trainees must attend at least three pro bono clinics during their contract: “It's firm policy that you do 25 hours of pro bono a year, but people far exceed that anyway.” Trainees can also give thanks for an active social life. Beyond regular Friday drinks, Dechert's 'Uncorked Committee' works to co-ordinate a number of networking events for trainees and junior lawyers with a budget provided by the firm. Elsewhere, “the head of white-collar invites people to his house for a summer barbecue,” plus there's a Christmas party with the all-important free bar. Sports enthusiasts can also rejoice: “There's a football team, a netball team and a softball team; we also have a sailing trip which is always oversubscribed!” That sailing trip comes courtesy of the firm's participation in the Legal Cup – a yacht race between firms. “First and foremost it's about bringing people together. If we win along the way then that's great!”
Many of our sources hoped to sail through qualification and stay on at the firm. “They do their best to keep on as many people as possible, but business need means they can't always retain everyone.” A list of how many NQ positions are available in each department is published, before graduate recruitment asks second-years for their preferences. Trainees appreciated that the process is “transparent from the beginning.” Should tough competition force departments to pick between trainees, qualifiers may have to face an interview. Five out of ten trainees were kept on in 2017.
Overseas seats are available in Brussels, Dublin and Singapore. Trainees also have the chance to do a secondment to the Royal Courts of Justice, working as a judicial assistant to a judge.
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How to get a Dechert training contract
Apply for 2020 training contracts via the firm's 2018 vac schemes
Dechert generally receives around 600 applications for its spring and summer vacation schemes, which are two-week placements each open to ten candidates.
Following an initial application short-listing stage, successful candidates are invited to undertake a video or telephone interview with someone on the grad recruitment team. Once through that stage, candidates are then asked into the office for a face-to-face interview with a member of the grad recruitment team and the grad recruitment partner. At this stage, the firm now operates a 'blind interviewing' system, which means that interviewers have no information on the candidate before they see them, ensuring that everyone is in the same position. Rather than focusing on candidates' CV, there is more of a focus on commercial scenarios and the strategy the candidate employed when applying for the role. Candidates are evaluated on style, presentation and the judgement they demonstrate. Following the interview, candidates are asked to complete a written exercise and given a trainee-led tour around the office.
Vac schemers visit two departments during their placement and can state up to four seat preferences beforehand. Alongside live pieces of work there are skills workshops, and training and practice area sessions. Attendees also participate in a group project over the course of their placement. Various networking lunches, sporting events, barbecues and evening drinks keep things ticking over on the social front.
Applications and assessments
In 2017 all training contract offers were made to those who had undertaken a vacation scheme or work experience with the firm. Dechert hopes to repeat this approach in 2018 and aims to recruit all of its 2020 future trainees from its vac schemes. However, it will open up direct applications for training contracts in the spring, if vacancies are still available. The firm usually has ten training contracts on offer in total. So if you want a better chance of nabbing one, get on a vac scheme. The firm tells us that each two-week vac scheme “acts as a two-week training contract interview.”
For those who go for the direct route, candidates are asked for their academic history, work experience and firm-specific questions. When it comes to listing work experience, “we want to see candidates draw upon their experiences and tell us how they've cemented their interest in becoming a commercial solicitor,” we're told. “For example, if you worked at a financial institution, how did that influence your decision to apply here?”
Much like the vac scheme application, after a paper sift, there's a video or telephone interview with grad recruitment. Successful candidates then face the blind interview, but this time in front of an interview panel made up of associates, partners and the graduate recruitment partner. Commercial scenarios are a key focus again. “Here we're looking for candidates to present their answers in a logical, structured way,” says grad recruitment. “They don't necessarily have to get the answer right, in fact there isn't a right answer; it's more about how candidates reason an argument and analyse the scenario. Like a maths exam, usually a lot of the marks you get are for your working out. It's more about how you arrived at your answer than the answer itself.”
Finally, there's a written test and a trainee-led tour of the office. “Trainees often take the interviewees to have a coffee and share their experiences at the firm,” a source tells us. Candidates are rarely brought back for follow-up interviews, but if successful they are given an opportunity to return to talk through any remaining questions or concerns they might have.
Interview with international trade lawyer Miriam Gonzalez
160 Queen Victoria Street,
- Partners 42*
- Associates 88*
- Total trainees 20*
- * denotes London figure
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 27
- Contact [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 600
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 (or capable of attaining a 2:1)
- Minimum UCAS points: 340
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- An application for a place on one of our vacation schemes in 2018 is also an application for a training contract commencing in September 2020.
- For dates and deadline please visit our website
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £95,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Brussels, Dublin and Singapore
Main areas of work
Our six seat training contract provides flexibility, depth and variety. No two trainees have the same experience. We can help tailor your training contract – whether you’re enjoying a seat and want to get to know that practice group better, and so want to repeat it, or whether you want to get the broadest experience possible across a range of practice areas. There are also opportunities for secondments to other Dechert offices overseas. We take your training seriously, both before and after you qualify. We have a full, and lively, training programme which covers the whole range of skills you need, from technical legal issues to substantive skills training in each practice group to what we call the ‘Critical Skills Institute’, which is focused on leadership, management, communication and client relations.
If you would like to apply for a place on one of our vacation schemes in 2018, please visit our website for further details. An application for a place on one of Dechert’s vacation schemes is also an application for a training contract commencing in September 2020.
Open days and first-year opportunities