Dentons' penchant for strategic mergers has made it the world's most populous law firm. But trainees reassured us that Dentons is still "down to earth."
DenTONS of lawyers
In last year's True Picture, we heaped praise on Dentons for finally clinching the title of world's biggest law firm. Its merger with Chinese juggernaut Dacheng brought its head count up to a globe-topping 6,500 lawyers, which further grew following a transatlantic tie-up with McKenna Long & Aldridge, doubling its presence in DC and California. Determined to lead from the front, Dentons has continued its aggressive growth programme over the past year, announcing a string of mergers with Singapore's Rodyk & Davidson LLP, Australia's Sydney-based Gadens, Luxembourg's OPF Partners, Colombia's Cardenas & Cardenas and Mexico's López Velarde, Heftye & Soria. The firm has also opened a new Milan office, and expanded its Budapest office to welcome 50 additional lawyers. Its 7,500 lawyers can now be found in over 125 offices across 55 countries, from Egypt and Turkmenistan to Mozambique and Romania.
Back in the UK it's been just as busy: in January 2016 the firm banked some serious ammunition for its financial litigation and investigations teams, snapping up Watford mainstay Matthew Arnold & Baldwin's banking and finance litigation team, and adding a Watford office to its existing presences in Milton Keynes and London.
Most of our trainee sources had applied in the days when Dentons “was still a UK City firm; not the global colossus we see today.” They were attracted to the firm for its comprehensive service offering, friendly culture and tenacious ambition: “In 2013 we'd just snapped up Paris's Salans and Canada's Fraser Milner Casgrain, and were pitted as the next up-and-coming challenger for magic circle work,” one trainee told us. “It was a very exciting prospect.” Trainees were just as giddy during our recent conversations, telling us: “We want to employ every lawyer in the world! We work with globally minded clients who require in-depth understanding of markets across the globe. By tying up with the best local firms worldwide, we're better positioned to provide the best service possible.”
All the world's a stagecoach
Banking is a cornerstone of Dentons UK and the firm has one of the largest practices in the country, with a team of more than 100 lawyers. Energy and real estate are also major practices; both earn nods from Chambers UK, as do many other groups, from data protection to projects to transport, which receives a top-tier score for rail work. Lawyers here recently acted for Network Rail, awarding and overseeing Virgin Stagecoach's 99-year lease on the East Coast Rail franchise. Dentons is now instructing on similar mobilisations concerning the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.
Dentons' City branch recruits some 24 new trainees each year, while Milton Keynes will share up to six trainees with the newly opened Watford office. Trainees in all locations are assigned their first seat and get to rank three preferences in anticipation of each subsequent one. Banking is compulsory for all Londoners, while those in MK are required to do a stint in real estate. Whereas our MK sources were upbeat about the allocations system, telling us: “HR are receptive to your preferences and have been known to add extra spaces on certain seats when demand is high,” the verdict was rather more mixed in the City. “We're a much bigger cohort so it's tough to rank your preferences based on where you think other people will choose,” grumbled one trainee there. “That wouldn't be a problem if HR actually took our choices into consideration, but it's not unknown for people to go into a seat that they haven't chosen at all. The majority of us have done two banking seats and many of our other departments have a heavy financial slant. If you're not interested in banking, Dentons probably isn't the place for you.”
"Show you're enthusiastic, and you'll soon be given more interesting tasks.”
Dentons' “enormous” banking department covers a mix of funds finance, syndicated lending, acquisition finance and Islamic finance work. The London team recently advised ING and Wells Fargo on their $266.55 million and €939 million syndicated multi-tranche and dual-currency term loan facility agreement to Garanti Bank, Turkey's second largest private bank. Other clients of late include Investec, KSL Capital Partners and Société Générale. Trainees can choose from three subgroups for their seat: group A encompasses general banking and real estate finance work; group B is made up of asset finance, project finance and trade finance; and group C handles derivatives, capital markets, regulatory and structured finance matters.
An interviewee who'd sat in general banking recalled “acting on a lot of acquisition, Islamic and real estate finance work for large banks and real estate investment managers.” Here “everyone begins on conditions precedent checklists, which are pretty boring and involve lots of proof-reading. Show you're enthusiastic, and you'll soon be given more interesting tasks.” After nailing the basics, our sources had taken on “a lot of drafting,” ranging from security documents, corporate authorisation documents and memos, to “facility agreements worth tens of millions of pounds.” Pro tip: many of the deals passing through the general banking team are internationally focused, so “foreign languages are definitely useful.”
Work in group B is similarly outward-facing. On any given day trainees could be helping a Chinese bank fund an Indian airline with a special-purpose vehicle in the Cayman Islands, or pulling strings to sort the financing behind an oil extraction project in Nigeria, so “be prepared to pay your dues researching jurisdictional differences.” As in all of Dentons' banking seats “the hours are pretty gruelling,” with one trainee adding: “I was happy if got out at 10pm.” Still, “it's when the team is at its busiest that you really get brought in on the exciting stuff.” As one insider recounted, “in my first week I worked on a closing with a group of associates. I was communicating with clients from the off, printing and getting signatures on documents, then collating them, scanning them and sending them back out to the client.”
“Network Rail and Sainsbury's are such big clients they have their own real estate subgroups.”
The real estate department is also split into several subgroups, encompassing areas such as retail, planning, real estate investment and financing. The department services plenty of household names, including Sainsbury's, Royal Mail and Transport for London. In June 2015, Dentons guided Magnus Real Estate though its £70 million purchase of Fox Court, which our readers may better recognise as the headquarters of HM Courts & Tribunals Service. As an appointed firm for John Lewis's legal panel, lawyers have also been busy helping the eminent retailer to sell and obtain planning permission for its clearings site in Chelsea, which will be redeveloped to feature a new local primary school residential scheme. Meanwhile, “in Milton Keynes, Network Rail and Sainsbury's are such big clients that they have their own subgroups,” one MK source explained. Rookies here had drafted leases, agreements for lease and licences to alter for the supermarket heavyweight. Like with many real estate seats, it's not uncommon for trainees here to be given a file and expected to run the transaction to the end.
“It can get quite paper-heavy” over in dispute resolution, so “it's important to be organised, be on top of your filing, and work to the civil procedure rules and deadlines.” Luckily there's more engaging stuff on offer too – interviewees told us they'd “attended court on a number of occasions, and drafted witness statements, claim forms and simple defences and pleadings.” The team's remit spans a host of sectors, among them energy, IP, media, transport, and financial services, of course. The latter “throws up a lot of interest rate swap mis-selling claims,” one Londoner explained, “where we predominantly act in defence of the banks.” In addition, solicitors have recently been immersed in a costly public sector lands transfer dispute, acting for the London Borough of Southwark in ongoing litigation and arbitrations against Transport for London. The dispute concerns the extent to which each party should control Greater London Authority roads in the borough.
“I really like the people I work with here."
With so many offices around the globe, you'd think overseas seats would be a ten a penny at Dentons. Not so much. “Considering Dentons' global coverage, overseas opportunities are a bit of a joke,” trainees fumed. “When I applied there were opportunities to head to our Middle Eastern offices, and San Francisco too. It was a big reason many of us wanted to come here. Those placements have been pulled, and no real explanation has been given. We're told that the firm is looking into other secondments, but it's highly unlikely anything will be in place by time we're done!” The firm assures us that these destinations are back on the menu, and that there should be a Sydney secondment available from September 2016. Still, with current opportunities thin on the ground, the sole international secondment to Airbus's Toulouse office is hot property. For those happy to stay in the UK it's a little less threadbare – in-house placement seats are available at a handful of London banks and companies.
If you're under the impression that Dentons' City rep and global workload make for long hours, you're not wrong. “It does vary from department to department,” callers maintained, “but in some of the banking teams – particularly asset, corporate and project finance – you'd better get used to 10pm finishes.” It seems Milton Keynes strikes a better balance, with one MK insider telling us: “Going by our trainee WhatsApp group, there are a lot more late nights in London. So far I've managed to escape the post-midnight grind.” Still, those in the City weren't too disheartened. “If you have to stay late to help push through a transaction, there's a real sense that everyone is in it together,” we were told. “I really like the people I work with here and that makes a huge difference.”
When it comes to salaries we heard no complaints from trainees. “We're paid less in Milton Keynes,” one rookie mentioned, “but we'll often do fewer hours. We're the top-paying firm in the region, and our salary is higher than many big firms pay in their Birmingham offices.” “We also have a lot more social events put on for us than the London cohort,” another source enthused. “The office performed really well last year, so the firm rewarded us with a summer watersports day at Wyeboston Lakes. There was wakeboarding, dragon boat racing and waterskiing, and the firm followed it up with a fancy dress BBQ.” Any costumes cause a particular splash? “Our office partner dressed as Austin Powers,” we were told. “Complete with medallions and dodgy impression!”
Down in London it's not all work no play. “Everyone is very friendly and down to earth,” one City slicker explained, “and there are plenty of forums to form new friendships.” Dentons runs “societies for almost every type of sport:” yoga and football are popular, but “you'll always find a good trainee showing at racket club,” which meets on Saturday mornings at varying outdoor courts around the city. There's also a spring ball, which is attended by employees from both offices. “This year it's a James Bond theme,” trainees mentioned, “but even if it wasn't we'd probably still be in black ties and cocktail dresses. The firm never skimps on the venue; it's always pretty fancy.”
Trainees' first cross-office interactions happen in the London office during Dentons' orientation training. Between “a handful of socials,” the programme kicks off the TC with a fortnight of know-how sessions, covering the PSC requirements and the firm's key admin procedures. A few days of department-specific training are also provided as trainees rotate into new seats. Banking won particular plaudits on this front, with trainees telling us that “the firm has nailed it, as it's so targeted towards where we're at. They give you a full run-through of things like how securities work, or how to create a legal opinion. Once you've had that full agenda of different sessions, you feel confident approaching typical trainee tasks for the first time.”
When it comes to qualification, trainees are expected to submit application forms and interviews for each position they apply for. “When you're making that choice, you already have a good idea of where your strengths lie,” second years assured us. “Every three months you do mid or end of seat appraisals with your supervisor.” It's worth bearing in mind that “many of the opportunities are in the banking department,” so “competition can be fierce in more niche groups.” In the end, 14 of Dentons' 19 new qualifiers stayed on at the firm in 2016.
“Dentons are looking for commercially minded people who can think on their feet.” Find out more about the Dentons recruitment process online.
How to get a Dentons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 31 December 2016 (spring and summer)
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 March 2017 (non-law); 31 July 2017 (law)
Applying to Dentons begins with an online form. As part of the initial screening process, the firm scores each applicant on three core factors: academics, work experience and personality.
Graduate recruitment adviser Alex Mundy tells us: “We do have our target universities, but the main thing for us is that people meet the grades.” The minimum is a 2:1 degree, plus AAB at A level. When it comes to work experience, “we like to see that candidates explored what it would be like to work in a commercial law firm – and if it's a City one, then all the better,” Mundy says. Personality criteria, on the other hand, are drawn out through questions “tailored towards candidates' achievements and extracurricular activities.”
Around 15% of the firm's 1,500 applicants are invited to take a Watson-Glaser critical thinking test. The firm keeps the pass mark for this under wraps.
Successful candidates are then asked to complete a 'WAVE Professional Styles' questionnaire prior to their first-round interview. “This involves questions looking at your preferred style of work,” Mundy says, “and from that we can establish what we need to focus on in the interview.”
The interview itself “encourages conversation and gets you talking about yourself,” according to the firm's current trainees. “The questions are designed to get you to demonstrate your ability in certain areas – for example, teamwork and coping under pressure.”
Straight-to-training-contract hopefuls who impress enough in the first round get a crack at a second-stage interview shortly thereafter. There's a lot packed into this stage: candidates are interviewed by two partners, and there's also a case study and presentation. “They give you a packet of fake business documents and ask you to advise on a situation,” insiders informed us, “then they ask you questions about it afterwards.” Trainees described the process as “pretty challenging – as an interview should be. The partners don't mess around in seeing if you've got what it takes, but they certainly don't go out of their way to make you feel uncomfortable either.” Tough but fair, then.
All in all, “we're looking for ambitious, driven and determined candidates because that's what we are as a firm,” Mundy says, reminding applicants that “you've got to want to work for an international firm, as trainees end up getting involved in a lot of cross-jurisdictional work here.”
Vacation scheme and open day
Dentons hosts a week-long vac scheme in July. Candidates apply via the process outlined above, with the vac scheme taking place between the first and second-round interviews (all participants are offered a second interview upon completion).
There are around 15 vac scheme places on offer in London (exclusively for law students) and six in Milton Keynes (for both law and non-law students). Participants spend three of their five days shadowing trainees in various teams “so they can see as many different departments as possible,” Mundy tells us. There are a few social events dotted throughout the week as well, including an afternoon treasure hunt, which Mundy says is “a great way to get to know the City.” Our sources' number-one tip for getting the most out of the scheme? “Speak to as many current trainees as possible – that'll contribute a lot to your understanding of what the firm's about.”
In London, open days are held in December for non-law students. “They treat it like a mini-vac scheme. You spend time in two departments – one in the morning and another in the afternoon – and you also get a tour of the building, which gives you a chance to meet the trainees.”
Dentons around the world
Wherever you head if you travel the world – be it Cape Town, Miami or, er, Milton Keynes – you're likely to stumble across a Dentons office. The firm's reach currently extends across 55 countries and over 125 locations, making it the biggest law firm on the planet by headcount. Read on for a closer look at Dentons' presence around the world.
Grow and grow some more
Dentons' staggering office count is largely down to a series of major mergers (or 'combinations' as Dentons calls them) which have pulled together what were ten years ago six different big international firms into one big one.
First up, in 2010 international City firm Denton Wilde Sapte merged with Americans Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal to form SNR Denton; then there was the three-way tie-up between SNR Denton, Fraser Milner Casgrain (FMC) of Canada and Europe's Salans in November 2012.
The merger with Chicago-headquartered Sonnenschein granted Dentons significantly greater geographical coverage, particularly in the US: 12 of Sonnenschein's 13 offices were in the States, and comprised major locales like New York, DC, San Francisco and LA. The combination created a firm with around 1,400 lawyers and 16 offices, making it a top 30 global firm in terms of headcount.
The love-in with FMC and Salans expanded Dentons' global reach even further. FMC was one of Canada's most prominent firms, with 500-plus lawyers working across offices in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Salans, meanwhile, was a Europe-focused firm headquartered in Paris which had 20 bases across 17 countries.
In July 2015, Dentons' bid for worldwide domination received a boost stateside. The firm bolstered its US arm by merging with McKenna Long & Aldridge, adding around 370 lawyers and four new offices in the process.
In November 2015 China hit the firm's radar – a merger with Chinese powerhouse Dacheng crowned it the world's largest law firm by headcount, with a mind-boggling 6,600 lawyers across the globe. This colossal figure dwarfs former headcount champ Baker & McKenzie by some 2,000 lawyers.
The Dentons of today has far too many offices for us to go into any real detail about them, but there's a neat little interactive map on the firm's website that show where its outposts are located.
A Swiss operation
You may or may not have come across the term 'Swiss Verein' before. Just in case you haven't, this is a structure certain law firms operate under so that each of its international branches is able to remain independent from the others legally speaking and benefit from limited liability. Each branch has full control over its own debts and activities, rather than falling under the command of the firm as a whole. Dentons is structured as a Swiss Verein, as are Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells.
In the case of Dentons, the firm consists of nine separate regional branches operating as part of the Dentons Group Swiss Verein: Dentons Canada LLP, Dentons Cardenas & Cardenas Abogados Ltda, Dentons Europe LLP, Dentons Hong Kong, Dentons López Velarde, Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP, Dentons UKMEA LLP, Dentons US LLP, and Dachneg (大成). While London is technically Dentons' biggest office, the firm has a decentralised set-up and doesn't designate an official head base.
Emerging from mergers
Our trainee sources this year were keen to point out that much of their work has involved an international element, especially in relation to emerging markets like the Middle East and Africa. Indeed, the firm has a stellar reputation in both regions.
The firm's presence and activity in Africa is particularly notable. Dentons has full offices in the major North African cities of Cairo and Casablanca, plus associates offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and relationships with associate firms in Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Libya Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Uganda and Zambia. This gives it the biggest network of any global firm across the continent. It notches up solid Africa-wide rankings in Chambers Global in the fields of banking and finance, corporate/M&A, projects and energy, and dispute resolution.Dentons has a less hefty presence across the Middle East but can still boast full offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman and Qatar plus associations with firms in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Chambers Global ranks Dentons across the entire Middle East for its work in capital markets, corporate/M&A, dispute resolution, Islamic finance, and projects and energy.
One Fleet Place,
- Partners 2,892
- Fee-earners 4,614
- Total Trainees 47
- Contact Alexandra Mundy
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Critical thinking test, competency based interview, assessment day
- Closing date for 2019
- Non-law: 31 March 2017
- Law: 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 30
- Applications pa 1,600
- % interviewed pa 20%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary in London
- First year: £40,000
- Second year: £44,000
- Training salary in Milton Keynes and Watford
- First year: £27,200
- Second year: £29,750
- Holiday entitlement 24 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 30%
- No of seats available abroad pa Currently 2
- Post-qualification salary (2015) £65,000
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (2015) 85%
- Dentons Offices London, Milton Keynes & Watford in the UK and across Europe, Middle East, CIS, America, Canada, Africa, South East Asia and Central Asia. For more location details please see our website.
Main areas of work