Dechert LLP - True Picture

In Philadelphia born and raised; a six-seat training contract is how I spend most of my days.

Dechert training contract review 2021

The Firm

Firstly, let's get the name right before you go anywhere near an interview at this formidable firm: it's pronounced ‘Deck-urt’, with the stress on the first syllable. In many ways this Philly-founded firm-gone-global has much in common with many US outfits operating in the London market. Firstly, you’ve got strong finance, funds and corporate focused practice areas with corresponding Chambers UK rankings. Then you’ve got an intimate intake of just ten trainees at each rotation. And finally, and let’s face it most importantly, you’ve got the sky-high pay packet, with NQ salaries comfortably north of £100,000. “If I was going to work hard, I wanted to be paid well for it,” one insider reflected frankly.

“I didn’t know where I wanted to qualify, so having the opportunity to experience more departments was something I valued.”

However, they also pointed to a number of more unique features up the firm’s sleeve; chiefly being the only US firm in London to offer a six-seat rather than four-seat training contract. “I didn’t know where I wanted to qualify, so having the opportunity to experience more departments was something I valued,” one source declared. Another added: “While we do represent what you think of as a traditional US firm in having a strong corporate, funds and finance offering, we also have some more niche seats such as white-collar, IP and employment.” Taken together, our interviewees felt Dechert offered a compelling package.

One source went as far as to say that “we don’t even feel like a US firm,” citing the fact that the firm’s London origins can be traced back to the merger between UK-based Titmuss Sainer and then Dechert Price & Rhoads. They add: “We have the support of the big offices in the US and a great international reach, but we don’t feel like a satellite or support office – we definitely have our own autonomy.” Some source reasoned this removed the firm from some of the less desirable aspects of American firm culture; think “an obsession with billable hours,” or “a cutthroat environment.” One Americanism the firm has retained, however, is a healthy approach to pro bono. “As a minimum, everyone is expected to bill 25 hours of pro bono a year,” sources explained.

Trainees’ first seat is automatically allocated upon joining the firm, but they can indicate if they'd prefer to start in a transactional or contentious group. Everyone must complete a seat in the financial services group but are otherwise free to choose their other four seats. “You’re always certain to be allocated one of your top three preferences,” one source remarked, “even more so in the second year.” The firm also offers a number of client and international secondments, the availability of which can be changeable depending on the firm's business needs. As one insider revealed: “There used to be placements in Singapore, Brussels and Dublin, as well as a position shadowing a judge at the Royal Courts of Justice, but they’ve all been dropped recently." Another source expressed disappointment “that there are no placements in America available either.” However, others were consoled by the fact that “the firm is always exploring new options.” Some of the more exciting current options include a funds seat in Luxembourg and placement with Airbus in Toulouse.

The Seats

“Funds has a bit of a scary reputation around it,” one insider revealed. “Unlike corporate where you can go in and grasp what’s happening straight away, funds is a bit like staring at alphabet soup – you have no idea what people are saying.” It’s a practice made up of some 200 lawyers over 16 of the firm’s offices. In an advisory capacity the firm works with financial services firms, asset managers and investment funds, representing clients ranging from small start-up and boutique operations to enormous financial institutions. Here trainees may be helping to ensure funds comply with regulatory requirements or assisting on the structuring of a fund. Many of our interviewees had experience "working on the launching of hedge and private equity funds," too.

Though referred to as “one of the more intense seats," sources also recognised it “as a great learning experience," with tonnes of responsibility for those eager to impress. One expanded: “You get the first stab and lot of funds-related documents such as a prospectus, subscription agreement, or limited partnership agreement." The group also challenges trainees’ organisational abilities. “You might be sending out a board pack or collating documents to send to a director of a fund. It’s always your number on the bottom of the work so expect client contact too!” Recently the team have advised Soloda Investment Advisors on the establishment of a Cayman Islands-domiciled macro fund, and represented Generali Investment on its acquisition of CM Investment Solutions, a London-based alternative asset manager with $11 billion of assets, from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“I have a lot of plates spinning at any one time.”

Over in the corporate group, there’s a wide spread of mid-market M&A deals, capital markets, leveraged finance, and private equity work. “You’re usually assigned to one of the subgroups,” sources explained. The department also operates across a range of sectors including life sciences, mining, technology and, of course, financial services. Recently the group advised Crown Holdings, a leader in consumer packaging, on its $3.9 billion acquisition of Signode Industrial Group. “I have a lot of plates spinning at any one time,” one trainee told us. "Compared to litigation where I was typically handling three matters over the course of a four month-period, here I'd have six things on my plate that needed completing within a week.” Trainees’ main role here was monitoring checklists, liaising with counsel and drafting ancillary documents – typical of a corporate seat.

Within Dechert’s trials and investigations group you can find seats in commercial litigation and white-collar crime. Recently, lawyers in the former represented funds managed by Franklin Templeton Investment Management in a high-profile challenge to the restructuring of $500 million of notes issued by the International Bank of Azerbaijan. In white-collar crime one source explained that “there are a lot of big, slow-moving investigations going on.” They add: “I thought I would be photocopying, but I was running big disclosure exercises, sitting in on client interviews and conducting fact-finding missions.” Dechert also offers a seat in international arbitration, for which the firm is recognised among the worldwide leaders in Chambers Global. In London“it’s a relatively new team that they’re looking to grow,” one trainee told us, who was kept busy “preparing for hearings, managing evidence bundles and drafting pleadings.”

Trainee Life

At Dechert, “you don’t have so many of the 22-year-old coming straight out of university types,” one insider told us. “Most people are in their late twenties having spent a few years doing something else first, which makes for a more mature intake,” they finish. Most, but not all: new graduates definitely shouldn't be discouraged from applying. For those looking for the ‘work hard, play hard, drinks every night’ City vibe, Dechert may not be the firm for you. That’s not to say its antisocial: “we definitely make a conscious effort to celebrate birthdays and every so often there will be big events, but it’s just not every week."

“I haven’t found it intimidating at all. I asked so many questions in my first seat that I even annoyed myself.”

Moreover, while the prospect of joining an elite global firm may be somewhat daunting, one source was keen to point out that “I haven’t found it intimidating at all. I asked so many questions in my first seat that I even annoyed myself, but I never felt I was a hindrance to anyone or that I was getting on their nerves.” Another weighed in: “As long as you’ve shown you’ve tried and you’ve shown your thought process, they are happy to help. One partner sat down with me for an hour drawing graphs on a whiteboard and making notes to explain something when I didn't understand.”

Talking work/life balance, one insider reflected that “I was really expecting burnout culture and burning the candles at both ends to be much more prolific at US firms,” adding that “trainees rarely work weekends.” Another added: “in litigation I was mostly leaving between 7pm and 7.30pm, while in corporate it was closer to 8pm most nights.” However, we also heard reports of more intense periods where leaving at 10pm was closer to the norm. “You’re always going to have to stay really late if you want to throw yourself out there and meet every single deadline,” a trainee thought. “However, if you’re good at managing your work, and don't overburden yourself, from my experience there will be plenty of times when you can leave at 7pm."

Trainees can choose to apply for up to two positions come qualification. Dechert hasn’t had a glowing retention rate recently, having kept just six of its ten trainees in the past two years. Our sources agreed that “the process could use more transparency.” The firm did not disclose its retention figure in 2020.

Dechert is one of several firms to offer work experience under the Aspiring Solicitors scheme.

How to get a Dechert training contract


Spring vacation scheme deadline: 31 December 2020

Summer vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2021

Applications and assessments

Dechert recruits all of its trainees exclusively through its vacation schemes. The firm generally receives around 900 applications for its spring and summer vacation schemes, which take ten candidates each. A source tells us that the vacation 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 two face-to-face interviews with partners, associates 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. 

Vacation scheme

Vacation scheme attendees 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.

Dechert LLP

160 Queen Victoria Street,

  • Partners 45+*
  • Associates: 95+*
  • Total trainees: 20*
  • * denotes London figure 
  • UK offices: London
  • Overseas offices: 26
  • Contacts  
  • graduate.recruitment@dechert. com
  • 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: 6th April – 16th April 2021
  • Spring vacation scheme deadline: 31st December 2020
  • Summer vacation scheme runs: 28th June – 9th July 2021
  • Summer vacation scheme deadline: 31st January 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £45,000
  • Second-year salary: £50,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £120,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • 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 and Singapore

Firm profile
Dechert is a global specialist law firm with approximately 1000 lawyers across 26 offices. We have some of the world’s leading lawyers advising on both domestic and cross-border matters. The firm is frequently retained to work on the most challenging transactions and disputes, and prides itself on its ability to deliver premium legal services and sound business judgment to its clients. Dechert lawyers bring to their assignments a focus on quality, responsiveness and value for money. We are driven by one key principle: exceptional client service.

Main areas of work
In London, our lawyers are active in Dechert’s core practice areas of corporate and securities, financial services and investment management, finance and real estate, trials, investigations and securities, which incorporates our white collar and commercial litigation teams. Our clients include corporations, financial institutions, sovereign states, quasi-sovereign entities and private and high-net-worth individuals all over the world. Dechert undertakes work for 40 of the ‘Fortune 100’ companies, and advises 24 of the top 25 global asset management firms, and 41 of the top 50 global private debt firms.

Training opportunities
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 and substantive skills training in each practice area to the Critical Skills Institute, which is focused on leadership, management, communication and client relations. 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. 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.

Vacation schemes
We recruit all of our future trainees from two vacation schemes, in spring and summer. Our two week schemes are designed to give you an idea of what it will be like to be a trainee solicitor at Dechert. Each week you will sit in a different practice group and you are given real work to do by our lawyers. Exactly what you will do will depend on which practice group you sit in, but it will include research, drafting and attending meetings. You will also attend training sessions on a range of topics, such as legal writing and negotiation. In 2018, Dechert won Best Training – Vacation Scheme, due to the in depth, comprehensive training we deliver to our vacation scheme participants. 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.

Other benefits
Life assurance, an employee assistance programme, subsidised gym membership, subsidised on-site café, private medical and dental insurance, annual health assessments, pension scheme with firm contributions, season ticket loan and cycle to work scheme.

Open days and first-year opportunities
Visit our website for a full list of Dechert’s bespoke open days in 2020/21.

University law careers fairs 2020/21
Visit our website for a full list of the careers fairs we will be attending in 2020/21.

Diversity & Inclusion:
Dechert’s guiding principles and personal commitments are not simply words written on our website and in our policies — they are something that we all must live by every day. Championing diversity is part of Dechert’s DNA — a culture where respecting and valuing everyone’s voice and creating a shared enjoyment in all we do empowers people from different backgrounds, experiences and points of view to be fully themselves and bring their very best.

The following are just some of the key measures that Dechert has undertaken to improve diversity and inclusion at the firm:

Affinity Groups:
Identify and address diversity and inclusion-related issues, and create new and recurring programming focused on the attainment of professional and business development skills. They offer enhanced mentoring opportunities, retreats and educational workshop for diverse attorneys. Reaching beyond Dechert, affinity groups engage with our communities through advocacy, pro bono and speaker programs.
∙ Asian Affinity Group
∙ Black Lawyers Alliance
∙ Dechert’s Family Network
∙ Global Women’s Initiative
∙ Greater Middle Eastern Alliance
∙ Latino Affinity Group
∙ LGBTQ Affinity Group
∙ Dechert Heroes (Veterans Affinity Group)

Diversity Champions:
An award program – open to all those at Dechert, whatever their seniority, role or location – set up to recognize those who have given most to support a diverse and inclusive culture. The firm’s leaders chose four Diversity Champions from 100 peer-nominations; each was awarded a bonus.

Diversity Dashboards:
A user-friendly program covering hours, work quality and distribution of assignments that helps firm leaders see where D&I efforts are working effectively and where more attention is needed.

Diversity Symposium:
A two-day event for diverse associates, designed to help cultivate a wider professional and support network and to connect directly with firm leaders.

Inclusive Leadership:
Regular interactive sessions that build inclusive leadership skills within the partnership and all firm personnel.

Lunch and Learn Empowerment Series for Diverse Associates:
Provides an opportunity for diverse associates to share knowledge and skills gleamed from external workshops and professional development programs with diverse associates and counsel at Dechert. Sessions are held every two months and often include guest contributors from the partnership ranks.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Lenders: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity (Band 4)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Employment: Employer (Band 3)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
    • Partnership (Band 3)