Mega-firm Dentons tops the global charts for lawyer headcount and continues to export its “incredibly purple brand” around the world.
Who ate all the law firms?
If Law Firm v. Food were made a hit show on the Travel Channel, Dentons would be the new Adam Richman. Just when you think it's guzzled up enough firms, it digs deep and polishes off another choice morsel without breaking a sweat. “We seem to be continually merging with more law firms – I lose track of where we have offices!” one trainee admitted, while another equally bemused interviewee added: “Every time I think they'll stop they add a new firm. The goal is clearly to be the biggest and the best.”
Dentons clinched the title of the world's largest law firm in 2015 following a merger with Chinese giant Dacheng, before shacking up with US firm McKenna Long & Aldridge. Since then it's ingested an impressive array of other outfits and demonstrated quite a taste for Latin American cuisine in particular: tie-ups with Gallo Barrios Pickmann (Peru), Vella Pugliese Buosi Guidoni (Brazil) and Munoz Global (Costa Rica) have all been cemented. It's also recently merged with Netherlands-based Boekel and formed an association with Tehran-based Arman Pirouzan Parvine. Have we forgotten anything? Oh, it's also recently opened up new offices in Jeddah, Monterrey and Rome and taken over DLA Piper's Tbilisi base in Georgia, bringing its total office count (at the time of writing) to a jaw-dropping 151 across 57 countries.
“The goal is clearly to be the biggest and the best.”
As to whether all of this expansion is energising the firm or giving it indigestion, trainees told us: “A few of us are concerned about the dilution of the branding, especially when some merged firms don't take the name at all. It becomes a bit confusing.” Most sources, however, were less apprehensive, telling us: “I think the press paints us as merging for the sake of merging but the idea behind it is to provide the best service we can in as many places as possible. It's exciting to work at a firm doing that.” The degree of international work you'll see depends on where you're sat – energy and banking in particular have big global presences – but in general “you do get to know and work with colleagues around the globe. Today I've been emailing people in Poland, Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic.” Every year each office also partners up with another to solidify links. “There's a strong focus on being one firm,” sources told us. “This year in Milton Keynes we're twinned with Calgary in Canada; we hold competitions like who can decorate the best pumpkins – it's all very grown up and sophisticated stuff.”
Banking is a cornerstone of Dentons UK – the firm has one of the largest banking groups in the country – but it also scores a host of both nationwide and area-specific rankings in London and the Thames Valley. Areas of particular strength include energy, transport, environment, construction, real estate, corporate and litigation.
Know your ABCs
Dentons' City branch recruits around 24 new trainees each year, while Milton Keynes shares up to six trainees with the Watford office (this base recently joined the firm thanks to the acquisition of Matthew Arnold & Baldwin's banking and finance litigation team in 2016; trainees complete three seats in Milton Keynes and one in Watford). Trainees in all locations are assigned their first seat and get to rank three preferences before each subsequent rotation. Banking is compulsory for all Londoners, while those in MK are required to do a stint in real estate. “In Milton Keynes the process is more personable than in London as there are fewer of us,” one source explained. “We sit down with HR and discuss our progression. They've been very helpful and listened to me.” Londoners, however, felt allocation could do with a bit of work. “It feels a bit like a name in a hat situation,” one interviewee told us. Several in the capital were hopeful that their office may adopt a similar process to Milton Keynes', telling us: “We'd like a meeting with HR instead of just filling out a form. I hope it means they can get to know us and our preferences; at the moment they're just faced with loads of ticked boxes.” At the time we went to press the firm told us that it had taken on board this feedback and instated the same allocation system in London.
Overseas seats are in short supply and predominantly go to London trainees. The firm always offers a seat with client Airbus in Toulouse and one firm secondment that switches location every six months. Recent destinations include Singapore, Sydney and San Francisco. 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.
Dentons' banking department covers a mix of funds finance, syndicated lending, acquisition finance and Islamic finance work. The London team recently advised digital gaming suppliers NYX Gaming on its £125 million unitranche loan facility with US asset manager Ares Capital. The funds were used to finance NYX's acquisition of UK online betting platform Openbet. Other clients of late include Investec, Wells Fargo, Fortress Capital 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.
Group A covers “conventional finance like loans, leveraged finance, acquisition financing and real estate financing. It all tends to be quite high-intensity, with the deals lasting for a month or two. We're on a lot of bank panels, primarily on the lender side, but we also do a fair amount of borrower side work where the lender is a private equity house or fund,” one source told us. We heard that the experience can be more administrative compared to other seats: “We're coordinating the conditions precedent check-list, proof -reading, organising loads of original documents and typing out bundle schedules.” Others had conducted company searches, attended client meetings, had a crack at drafting smaller documents and “chased up local counsel in tons of jurisdictions” on international deals.
“...highlighting anything that might cause a delay and finding commercial solutions.”
Work in group B is similarly outward-facing. On any given day trainees could be helping national companies like travel operators TUI purchase four cruise ships, or advising the sponsors on a privately financed geothermal project in Kenya. “There's a lot of energy work on renewables, like wind or solar farms,” one source told us. The international scope of the work here could see trainees “managing local counsel in 12 jurisdictions and sending out questionnaires to ask for clarity on issues. It was quite exciting to work with such a huge number of jurisdictions on a research/analysis angle.” Just like a stint in general banking the conditions precedent process falls under trainees' control, with sources also running data rooms and proof-reading. “I got to draft a few contracts,” another interviewee added. “I made loads of mistakes but my supervisor picked me up on it and it was a great way to get exposure to those documents.”
A right Royal Mail affair
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 John Lewis, Sports Direct and Royal Mail. In Milton Keynes, the sheer scale of work the team carries out for Network Rail and Sainsbury's means that both clients have their own subgroups. Dentons recently advised the former as two operators – Arriva and FirstGroup – took over Network Rail's Northern and TransPennine Express franchises, which in total involved leases for 505 stations and ten depots. Another highlight of late saw the firm advise Sports Direct on its property portfolio, which involved assisting with lease renewals, estate management and the acquisition of new-build stores.
“I was mainly working on leases and a few sales,” reported one MK trainee. “I got to negotiate and draft the leases and rent deposit deeds under supervision, but I also took instructions from the client, wrote title reports and reviewed Land Registry documents.” Others highlighted the extent of client interaction they'd enjoyed. “I was often the main point of contact and given responsibility for ensuring we completed on time, so I was raising enquiries on leases, highlighting anything that might cause a delay and finding commercial solutions to those possible hindrances.”
The dispute resolution team's remit spans a host of sectors, among them energy, IP, media, transport and financial services. The eclectic client list includes the National Crime Agency, Homebase, energy giant Total and TV maestros Fox Networks Group. Trainees could hurl themselves into “a real range of cases, from small debt recovery matters – which you can progress yourself with a little supervision – to multimillion-pound claims” like Haringey Council's £7 million professional negligence claim against NPS Property Consultants over construction costs. “On the large-scale litigation I was heavily involved in disclosure and got on top of organising the documents so I knew which ones would support my supervisor's argument,” one Milton Keynes trainee reported, while a Londoner told of “handling everything from research and bundling to reviewing witness reports.” Milton Keynes trainees could also find themselves undertaking a banking and finance litigation seat in Watford.
The Milton Keynes first-year trainee salary comes in at £28,500, lagging behind the £40,000 offered in the capital. “Our salary is competitive for the region,” Milton Keynesians reckoned. “It seems a little low compared to what they earn in London but they do work longer hours.” Outside the capital sources were regularly clocking off around 7pm, while in London (despite the average escape time appearing similar) sources were much more likely to reference busy spikes resulting in 11pm – or later – finishes.
Trainees' first cross-office interactions happen in the London office during Dentons' orientation training. A few days of department-specific training are also provided as trainees rotate into new seats. “It's excellent and the bigger teams like banking have weekly departmental training too,” which Dentonites are lured to with the promise of food: “My sandwich experience at Dentons has been incredibly positive.” Interaction between London, Milton Keynes and Watford tends to be limited to PSC sessions and an annual spring ball. “They held it aboard the Cutty Sark in Greenwich this year – it's the best location we've had!” sources gushed.Aside from that, most social events tend to be office-specific.
"Everyone was taking really silly photos.”
As many of the Milton Keynes contingent drive to work, the social scene is somewhat less lively than in London. Still, trainees in this town of roundabouts pointed to weekly Friday drinks in the office's breakout area. “The first-year trainees also plan the Christmas party; we're hiring a photobooth as that went down really well last year – everyone was taking really silly photos.” In London the social committee “plans lots of nights out. We recently went to Flight Club – the firm covered food and a few dartboards too!”
Some of our trainee sources detected a different atmosphere between the London and MK bases. “London doesn't feel quite as friendly as Milton Keynes as they're all in separate offices,” MKers felt. “Milton Keynes is completely open plan; there are no physical barriers separating trainees and partners which makes for a more relaxed atmosphere that feels very happy and vibrant.” Londoners, however, didn't feel their individual offices hindered interaction: “We're approachable. People have a laugh but they have their heads down at the same time. I work with some of the brainiest lawyers but they are interested in the trainees. I've never felt that they think they're too good to talk to me,” one told us. “Even though we're the biggest global firm you somehow manage to know everyone in the office,” another declared.
When we conducted our interviews, anxious second-year trainees were waiting to find out if they'd managed to retain a place at the firm post qualification. “The deadlines for informing us keep getting pushed back,” sources grumbled. Those in Milton Keynes were a little more optimistic than their counterparts in the City. “The intake here is small enough that you can guess where the jobs will be. This year is a little different as legacy Matthew Arnold & Baldwin's trainees will also be qualifying so the cohort is twice the size, but I can't see any huge axe hanging.” In the end the firm retained 19 of 28trainees in 2017.
Bear in mind that despite the seat choice on offer, “both this and last year saw two-thirds of the qualification roles available in corporate and banking,” sources pointed out. “If you'd like a more niche area it can happen but you really have to push for it.”
How to get a Dentons training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 July 2018 (applications opened September 2017)
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 manager 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 ABB 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 1,700 applicants are invited to take a Watson-Glaser critical thinking test. The firm keeps the pass mark for this under wraps.
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, planning, organising and coping under pressure.”
Straight to training contract hopefuls who impress enough in the first round get a crack at the second stage. Candidates face an assessment centre consisting of a role play exercise, a written exercise (which is assessed by senior associates), a case study and a final partner interview.
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.”
Dentons hosts two-week schemes in both Easter and summer in London, and during the summer across Milton Keynes and Watford. In London, on top of getting a taster of the firm's work there are a few social events dotted throughout the scheme; one of these involves 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.”
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 57 countries and over 150 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 ten years ago were six different big international firms into a single 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 continues to expand and 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. Just remember that this is a snapshot at the time of writing and Dentons will likely have many more lawyers and offices to its name in the future.
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 11 separate regional branches operating as part of the Dentons Group Swiss Verein: Dentons Australia Pty Ltd; Dentons Canada LLP; Dentons Cardenas & Cardenas Abogados Ltda; Dentons Europe LLP; Dentons Hong Kong; Dentons López Velarde, S.C; Dentons Muñoz Costa Rica Limitada; Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP; Dentons UKMEA LLP; Dentons US LLP; and Dacheng (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
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 Algiers, Kampala, Port Louis, Praia, Tripoli, São Tomé and Nairobi. 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 still boasts full offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Muscat, 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: 140
- Associates 272
- Total trainees 55 (first and second years, as of 1 October 2017)
- UK offices 3
- Overseas offices 148
- Graduate recruiter: Alexandra Mundy, [email protected], 0207 320 3751
- Training partner: Felicity Ewing, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 30
- Applications pa: 2,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 26
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: September 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: September 2017
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000 per annum in London and £28,500 in Milton Keynes & Watford
- Second-year salary: £44,000 per annum in London and £30,000 in Milton Keynes & Watford
- Post-qualification salary: £70,000 per annum in London and £40,000 in Milton Keynes & Watford
- Holiday entitlement: 24
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £6,000 in London, £5000 outside of London
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Milton Keynes & Watford
- Overseas seats: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney
- Client secondments: 5
Main areas of work
Our London training contract consists of six-month seats in four of our nine practice areas. Along with a seat in our banking and finance practice and a contentious seat (or an external litigation course), you may also have the opportunity to work in one of our global offices or to work directly with one of our clients within their team and office.
Milton Keynes and Watford
Our rotational Milton Keynes and Watford training contract will see you move between the two offices, with the opportunity to experience our City-level out-of-town legal service and the chance to work with our numerous household-name clients. Our legal departments include corporate, dispute resolution, financial litigation, real estate, property litigation, construction and employment, and you’ll spend sixmonth seats in four of them.
These placements consist of business games, department visits and social events, giving potential trainees an insight into commercial law and our way of life at Dentons.
University law careers fairs 2017
Cambridge; Nottingham; Warwick; Leicester; Bristol; Oxford; Birmingham; Manchester; Exeter; Durham.