Trainees get their kicks from a heady mix of six seats at this Philly-founded firm with a global identity.
Home is where Dechert is
Where would the ‘special relationship’ – that glorious US-UK love affair – be without the legal industry? Throughout all the global political crises, awkward hand-holding and diplomatic gaffes, lawyers have calmly, prudently built a transatlantic industry binding together the world’s two giant legal hubs – London and New York. In 2000, when Titmuss Sainer and Dechert Price & Rhoads merged, the legal industry’s own ‘special relationship’ was reinforced.
Fast forward two decades, and with names dropped (now just Dechert), revenue doubled in London (from $66 million in 2000 to $123 million in 2018), and flags flying in all corners of the globe (26 offices now in total), Dechert’s prominence across the pond is substantial. Having overseen two of the largest private equity-backed acquisitions in the past three years, this Philadelphia-based firm still (!) has growth on its mind and is now established as a significant player among the US firms based in London.
“It's a US firm that has a soul.”
It’s not all stars, stripes and other slightly tired stereotypes. “When America wakes up you might get a flurry of emails around 3pm,” told one trainee, “but I wouldn’t say it’s American really. It feels like a very British office.” This Americanness can be detected in a sense via the firm’s practice strengths, however. Here in London, US firms often excel in corporate work, capital markets and investment funds, and Dechert does exactly that, featuring alongside other US giants and the magic circle in these rankings. But there’s a fair amount of individuality here at Dechert, too. The firm stands out in financial crime and employment, and globally, the firm’s abilities in international arbitration and public international law give Dechert a certain edge.
Trainees we interviewed felt they were “onto a winner here.” One source gushed: “ I work with great people, I have a great work/life balance, and I get all the US perks of a US firm.” We’ll look at these assertions objectively later on, but our interviewee was backed by another: “It’s a US firm that has a soul.”
A law firm's soul is shaped by many a thing – assuming law firms have souls – and one of them is the structure of its training contract. Trainees undertake six four-month seats across the two years. Not only does the “pic ’n’ mix of seat options give you such wide breadth,” the firm also gives trainees opportunities to return to a seat, allowing you “to bite at many cherries.” Muddled food metaphors aside, the culture around pro bono – characteristic of most American law firms – is also a huge draw for trainees. It’s “highly celebrated by the firm,” we heard, which sets a minimum requirement of 25 hours per annum and every trainee is required to attend three law clinics each year.
Dech chairs? No, Dech seats
A firm’s size has a big impact on the training experience. “Each trainee can stand up and be counted,” they felt. “Being one of ten trainees means you’re quite important in every deal and on every matter.” In law firms there’s usually a trade-off between the scale of the work and your day-one responsibility, but in the markets Dechert operates in, trainees felt they hadn’t compromised. This sense of responsibility and engagement created a “close-knit feel.”
“There’s real freedom to try different avenues rather than just being pigeonholed.”
The first seat is always either contentious or transactional. It’s “compulsory to do a financial services seat” during the training contract, but nevertheless each trainee gives three preferences a month before each rotation. We heard there’s also a subtle shift in focus each year, with the current crop of second-years being quite “transactional-based,” with “corporate being quite popular,” while the current first-years are “quitefocused on contentious seats.” With a healthy spread of secondments available and encouraged, “there’s real freedom to try different avenues rather than just being pigeonholed.”
Making up approximately one fifth of the firm’s global lawyerly headcount, the financial services team advises financial services firms, asset managers and investment funds, representing clients ranging from small start-up and boutique operations to enormous financial institutions. On the private equity side, the firm was recruited to assist the Government of Singapore’s Investment Corporation in its acquisition of a majority stake in Thomson Reuters’ Financial and Risk business, valued at around $17 billion. In such a large, multi-jurisdictional deal, support is naturally required from many groups, such as the regulatory team, which guided the restructuring of the deal in respect to the investment and subsequent acquisition.
The team’s hedge funds work is substantial, with a big practice network across Europe. Dechert’s work covers “structuring, formation, and ongoing regulatory maintenance.” In 2018, the firm represented Soloda Investment Advisors on establishing a Cayman-based macro-fund valued at around $100 million. With many complex, big-name clients – such as Cheyne Capital Management and Kairos Group – there’s lots of crossover with other departments, like tax or corporate, which advise on the gloriously intricate international tax structuring of these funds, and the regulatory quagmire such structures create.
“The firm tries to cultivate responsibility.”
Three trainees tend to sit in the financial services team: “One has a regulatory aspect, one will be doing hedge funds, then one will be doing private equity.” Though it’s reportedly “all quite flexible.” For one trainee launching a start-up hedge fund, innovation was required for a structure without precedent: “It was a private equity fund in a hedge fund structure. We were working for three months on a full suite of fund documents. Looking at agreements with prospectus investors, negotiating contacts with administrative suppliers, working on the corporate documents, and incorporating relevant resolutions from Cayman counsel.” While unavoidable trainee tasks were common – bundling, doc reviews, due diligence – “the firm tries to cultivate responsibility.” Trainees reported working on drafts and approval from the FCA; reviewing offering documents from foreign counsel; or “liaising and taking instructions from clients directly.” Although there’s the typical expectation that trainees do the “heavy lifting,” our funds and PE sources found “there’s not much that could be improved.”
Over in the corporate group, there’s a wide spread of mid-market M&A deals, capital markets, and further private equity work. The firm advised a Korean memory-chip maker, SK hynix, on its $18 billion acquisition of Toshiba’s memory-chip unit, becoming, according to Reuters, the fourth biggest private equity-backed acquisition since the 2008 financial crash. Often US firms are dictated to by their American HQs, but here “we’re London-led,” claimed one source. “There was one deal with UK and US elements, and dealing with US counsel, but the deal was originated here and the London partners called the shots.” The team is mainly focused on advising the sellers during M&A deals. For one complicated cross-border acquisition, a junior loved the level of complexity going on: “I’ve been doing structured diagrams, summaries and tables of all the different financings, reviewing the work done by foreign counsel, and also doing large amounts of NDAs for the buyer.” Though one trainee mentioned: “Transactional work is much more exciting when you’re senior and are able to direct strategy.”
“I felt a lot more competent,” reported a trainee returning for a second time to this seat. “People trust you. I even went out to client offices by myself rather than with an associate.”
“The defining feature of the seat was its variety.”
Dechert has much clout in global dispute resolution, and litigation in London often has an international scope. In one notable matter, the firm successfully represented a Russian sovereign wealth fund in a substantial libel case brought against the Financial Times for statements made about Trump, Russia, and Putin that were deemed false and defamatory. The department covers complex commercial litigation, international arbitration, and white-collar investigation, with niche areas like insurance, defamation, and product liability also covered. As one source found: “The defining feature of the seat was its variety.” One particular highlight was a source’s involvement in an insolvency case with the Bank of Azerbaijan that went to the Court of Appeal. “I was just given the paper to read at the start,” our source told, “but after asking questions, I was invited to meetings with counsel to discuss strategy. It was really helpful hearing these experts first-hand. I was also able to draft court orders.” Whether it’s poring over obscure points of law, working with trustees and joint liquidators of an estate, or preparing “complicated settlement proceedings with 20 parties involved,” a seat here is reportedly “a very good experience to see all the sides of contentious work.”
In litigation there’s crossover with the white-collar department, which is a much sought-after seat. One trainee’s highlight was being “involved in a nine-week trial as our client had been charged with bribery. I attended meetings, discussed strategy: the client contact was huge. It was fantastic to see the litigation aspect as most white-collar matters don’t often go to trial: seeing the QCs work their magic was great.” Due to the “big matters” being dealt with by the department, lateral hires have helped grow the white-collar group “exponentially” in recent years.
Secondments got our sources giddy, whether it was working in-house for a long-standing client or a placement in one of Dechert’s international offices – be it Brussels, Singapore, Dublin, or more. “I really benefited from going in-house,” said one trainee, “it showed me the differences between a private practice, seeing how they communicate and what the client expects.” With overseas offices often being smaller, tasks were reportedly “meatier” and strayed “beyond trainee levels.” And different locations often means different specialties. In the Brussels office, for example, there’s a dedication to competition and antitrust law. Whereas in Singapore, the focus is solely on private equity and fund formation.
“The pro bono culture here is big,” and is “highly celebrated,” trainees told us. The firm’s US roots shape Dechert’s pro bono identity, and it’s viewed as an excellent training opportunity. “I got to draft a claim and work on exceptional case funding, which is quite rare for a trainee.” The firm continues its work with the Human Dignity Trust, an organisation examining laws in Commonwealth countries that discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. Awards and ceremonial “glass cubes” are awarded to those exceeding pro bono expectations throughout the year.
“Rightly or wrongly, London feels like the lead office for the rest of the world.”
You’ll note how guarded our trainee sources are about the US network’s influence over here. “Rightly or wrongly, London feels like the lead office for the rest of the world,” declared one trainee. “We’re not the epicentre, but definitely the head office outside the US.” Another junior jokingly found: “My day-to-day doesn’t see the Americanness other than American English being the default on our computers.” If it’s not American, then, how does the London office feel? “We’ve got a great balance here, everyone’s aware of each other’s lives,” said one source, and another added: “You’re respected for who you are.” A third source reported: “When I was newer, people wanted to help me for the sake of it: everyone’s keen to lend an ear and encourage that approachability culture.” And while the ‘approachability culture’ has its limits – the financial services side can reportedly “be quite difficult” due to the longer hours – “there’s an understanding here; people’s lives are respected.” Nuances do emerge though. For instance, “the nature of work and people’s background” determines some of the cultural differences between departments, with the office’s fifth floor homing barristers and ex-government workers, compared to the third and fourth, which “are more transactional-based.”
“There are fewer work and social events than you might expect,” but whenever events are put on, “it’s generally a very good showing, with partners who are fun and let loose.” The firm’s networking society, ‘Dechert Uncorked’, is popular with trainees, as is the associate committee, which “has really developed,” and now hosts events. Summer and Christmas parties, yearly quizzes, and spontaneous drinks are all part of the picture here.
With any American firm, the trope of gruelling hours is assumed to be true. But our sources sought to dismantle the myth, noting that 9am to 7 or 7.30pm constituted an average day. The funds group tend to finish much later (“11pm is the norm”), while, elsewhere, “when you get to 10pm, it gets quite quiet, and beyond 10? It feels late.” That leaves the 'myth' shakily intact for now. Sure, it's not as extreme as the thoroughbred US corporate finance firms, but it is as tough as many City firms: in short, your personal time will be constricted. Working from home and at weekends was uncommon for our interviewees. On the note of retention, things tend to be quite good: six out of ten were offered jobs from the current crop. The firm also now allows trainees to apply for two departments during the qualification process.
Don't try to pronounce Dechert with a French accent. It's more like Deck-urt.
How to get a Dechert training contract
Apply for 2022 training contracts via the firm's 2020 vac schemes
Applications and assessments
In 2017 and 2018 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 2020 and aims to recruit all of its 2020 trainees exclusively through its vacation schemes. The firm generally receives around 900 applications for its spring and summer vac schemes, which take ten candidates each. A source tells us that the vac scheme “acts as a two-week training contract interview.” There are usually ten training contracts on offer in total.
Following an initial application short-listing stage, successful candidates are invited to undertake a video interview. Once through that stage, candidates are invited to attend an assessment day at the firm’s office. This includes a face-to-face interview with a partner and a member of the Graduate Recruitment team, a written assessment and lunch with some of the firm’s current trainees.
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’ CVs, 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. “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.”
Following the interview, candidates are given a trainee-led tour around the office. “Trainees often take the interviewees to have a coffee and share their experiences at the firm,” a source tells us. They are given an opportunity to return to talk through any remaining questions or concerns they might have.
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. “Take that seriously,” trainees advised. “It’s a crucial part of the decision-making process at the end.” Various networking lunches, sporting events, and evening drinks keep things ticking over on the social front. “There are a lot of socials!” said trainees. “As well as having fun, my tip would be to use them as an opportunity to get an insight into what people are like at the firm rather than just going for drinks and food.”
160 Queen Victoria Street,
- Partners 45+*
- Associates 95+*
- Total trainees 20+*
- * denotes London figure
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 26
- Contact [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 900
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A-levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Spring vacation scheme runs: 30th March – 9th April 2020
- Spring vacation scheme deadline: 31st January 2020
- Summer vacation scheme runs: 22nd June – 3rd July 2020
- Summer vacation scheme deadline: 31st January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £116,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London and Dublin
- Overseas seats: Brussels, Dublin, Toulouse and Singapore
Main areas of work
Our trainees undertake six seats of four months each, with each trainee being seconded to a client or one of our international offices, providing a truly broad legal foundation. Working closely with partners and associates, and with a small trainee intake, no two trainees’ training contracts will be the same. We run a full training programme at the beginning of, and throughout, the training contract, which complements our on the job training. Following qualification, our NQs attend orientation in Philadelphia. We are looking for candidates who have a genuine interest in business and our clients, are ambitious and who have a keen sense of building community, both within the workplace and with our clients.
Before you start the scheme, we will ask for your practice area preferences and then try to place you in those groups. You will be allocated a supervisor (an associate or partner) and both a partner and a trainee buddy, but will receive work from people at all levels from across the group. Social events, such as evening activities and dinners, are an important part of the vacation schemes as they enable you to build your relationships with Dechert trainees, associates and partners.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Financial Crime: Individuals Recognised Practitioner
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
- Partnership (Band 3)