The world’s largest law firm has Den-tonnes of offices and quality to match quantity, but power hasn’t gone to their heads.
If you’re weighing up potential training contracts and looking hardest at firms with an international presence, it would be hard to miss Dentons. This is a firm with 170+offices worldwide – it’s in more countries than Costa Coffee, Nando’s or Armani. “The firm is super ambitious and it's entertaining to watch how quickly we're spreading across the world,” one trainee commented. Expansion has come from both one-off office openings and mergers – some of the most important have included its 2015 tie-up with Chinese firm Dacheng (giving it rare access to China and securing its place as the world’s largest law firm); and the 2017 acquisition of Scottish outfit Maclay Murray & Spens, bringing more trainees into the fold here in Britain.
The firm recently closed its office spaces in Aberdeen and Watford – staff in both locations will henceforth work remotely. Our interviews took place prior to the change, but sources were largely unperturbed by the firmwide need to work from home in 2020. Dentons has already proven itself on the tech front, introducing NextLaw Labs to its Silicon Valley presence way back in 2015. The firm describes the venture as “an ecosystem of myriad cutting-edge technology partners.” We’ll translate that for you – it’s a technology hub developing programs to help lawyers work more efficiently.
“It’s entertaining to watch how quickly we're spreading across the world.”
Given the firm’s size, an in-depth look at its Chambers rankings could fill a whole website, so we’ll summarise: Dentons appears 62 times in the Chambers UK standings, an incredible 124 times in Chambers Global and an even more impressive 132 times in Chambers Europe. Most of the England trainees can be found in the London office, but Milton Keynes recruits a cohort each year.For some, Dentons’ presence outside the capital was a big draw: “I wanted to benefit from a large law firm, without having the pressures and expectations that come with working in London.” MK trainees technically do a joint training contract, but some do all their seats in the same office. The firm’s Scottish offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh also welcome trainees (about ten each year).
Seat allocation became uniform across all UK offices from 2019, “so all seat options and secondments are now up for grabs for all trainees.” Trainees outside London can now apply for international secondments, if they can figure out the “ridiculously long” process. Before starting, everyone gets a “massive document” setting out all the seat options, typical tasks within seats, and stories from trainees who’d already sat there about what to expect. After a follow-up ‘seat fair’, future trainees rank 12 or so options for their first seat. It gets more complicated during seat rotations: everyone ranks three to six seats, allocating ‘percentage of preference’ to each, and provides a cover letter and CV. “The form changes slightly every rotation, so you can’t even copy past versions,” sources grumbled. “Dentons likes intensive paperwork for everything…” The firm told us the system is based on feedback from trainees of previous years. Though we heard complaints that the system is “a bit of a numbers game, it’s all a bit arbitrary,” most trainees got their top choice at least once. Keep in mind that banking is compulsory in London.
Banking is the firm's largest department and houses three subgroups. Group A does general banking including acquisitions, leveraged finance and inter-bank lending; B handles asset, project and trade finance; C is for capital markets, derivatives, regulatory and structured finance. Dentons’ roster includes big names like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse.
The firm is best known for advising lenders, but one source in banking A got lucky and saw some borrower-side work, too: “It’s really useful to draft documents from both perspectives because they have completely different areas of focus.” Dentons deals usually reach the high millions, sometimes tipping into the billions; in one example, the firm advised Ryanair on a €750 million syndicated facility. Interviewees praised supervisors for letting them “take free rein during deals and develop client relationships” once they’d proven themselves, with continued supervision; they also handled tasks like conditions precedent checklists. “It was awesome that I got to show I understood what I was doing, rather than being micromanaged,” one trainee explained. Another declared they “could shout from the rooftops about this incredible group of people. Even when I screwed up I was never made to feel stupid.” That’s not to say the expectations in banking aren’t high, and we heard “you’re ready to work like an NQ in the department by the end of the seat.”
“So many random queries come in, the variety keeps things interesting.”
Contentious and regulatory financial issues fall into the disputes banking and finance sub-team. Trainees dabbled in a varied palette of cases, including more commercial disputes. “I worked on a freezing injunction where I was rushing down to court, which was all very exciting,” one said; another noted that regulatory matters can revolve around weird and wonderful issues, like rules for transporting animals. “So many random queries come in, the variety keeps things interesting.” Dentons defended RBS against a £470 million LIBOR claim brought against it by the developers of the More London site. Financial institutions aside, the firm’s disputes clients include the Government of India and First Milk. A seat here also calls for costs recovery, “which is the negative side. I waded through three months’ worth of work and allocated the costs; it’s partly about what the client owes the firm and partly about what we’d get from the other side if we won, then justifying it all, which was painful to say the least.” It should be noted that a disputes seat is ‘strongly encouraged’ for trainees in Watford and Milton Keynes. Even those who didn’t fancy themselves as litigators were “pleasantly surprised” by their time here: “It’s useful to know what happens when things go wrong for clients even if you don’t want to be a litigator.”
Unlike at many big firms, Dentons’ corporate trainees typically sit across the whole department, rather than specialising in a specific practice. Sources felt this set-up “is great if you don’t know what you like, but if you do know then you won’t necessarily be able to specialise.” That said, “the corporate group really wants to know what you want out of the seat and they make sure you get it. The key is to have open dialogue – I told my supervisor what I wanted to do because ultimately it’s my career, so I didn’t have to work in the areas I didn’t want to.” Dentons has set its sights on higher-value M&A over the last few years, as well as big IPOs. “The department brings in big-ticket deals and we’re often on the other side of magic circle firms,” sources noted. The firm was recently across the table from Linklaters, advising global investment firm KKR on its €7 billion acquisition of Unilever’s spreads business. In a recent tech deal, Dentons advised Syncsort on its $700 million purchase of Pitney Bowes' software solutions business. Trainees summarised this seat as “fundamentally interesting and really challenging, which is great from a learning perspective.”
“By the end of the seat I was running my own matters and had direct client contact, which really helped boost my confidence.”
Pensions and employment both fall into the people, reward and mobility group.Trainees here acted as support on corporate deals and advised clients on the possible effects of Covid-19 in Latin America, Asia, Europe, South Africa and the Middle East – “managing everything at once was pretty intense.” Hours can stack up when you’re juggling jurisdictions, especially when they don’t observe UK bank holidays. The department’s “really respectful of people’s time overall, but there are a couple of demanding people. I’d heard horror stories about corporate and banking, so I expected it.” This is a seat that “throws trainees in the deep end because the team doesn’t have as many resources as some others,” meaning trainees have more “associate-level responsibilities” on top of due diligence, managing data rooms and providing advice about reducing pensions contributions following the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s an altogether varied seat and interviewees thought “it was cool to observe the rapidly changing employment laws.” The firm has recently acted for Bank of China and Spotify on day-to-day employment issues.
In the real estate seat too, newbies get a baptism of fire: “It was really fast-paced and client contact-heavy, which helped me develop my skills.” Dentons has advised clients like Transport for London, John Lewis and Sports Direct on real estate matters; Slough Urban Renewal (on behalf of Muse Developments) called on the firm’s advice during the £650 million purchase of former Thames Valley University land in Slough, targeted for a mixed-use development. Insiders were pleased to report they didn’t need to stick to stereotypical trainee tasks, “which are basically just admin and not great for development. I felt like an NQ and really got stuck into proper work.” Some put this down to the smaller real estate deals on offer: “By the end of the seat I was running my own matters and had direct client contact, which really helped boost my confidence, especially as a first-seater.” Supervision in this seat is “pretty hands-off. Because I had the chance to source my own work, I got to assist lots of different people; the team is used to having trainees and they really took the time to make sure I got the work I wanted.” Trainees in the planning sub-group were more focused on “policy minutiae”such as analysing how proposed developments fit in with local neighbourhood policy.
Trainees’ hourswere pretty consistent across seats: consistently high. “The timings are absurd, I’m just so tired,”one in corporate complained. “I was on a massive private equity deal pretty much 24/7 for nearly two months and I’ve often been sat at my desk at 10pm.” As Dentons pushes for greater-value deals and cases, it makes sense that demands on trainees will grow. “New York timelines make for such a tight turnaround,”according to another source. Interviewees in employment had similar tales to tell: “I was doing 60-hour weeks for a fortnight or so.”We should stress that this experience wasn’t universal: contentious seats tend to come with more forgiving hours, and Londoners were working later than trainees in Milton Keynes.
Despite its innumerable locations, sources agreed “Dentons has a polycentricculture and each office operates independently, so it feels like you’re at a regional firm rather than the world’s biggest – in a good way.” Departments don’t tend to socialise together, each making their own way: “Some are very good at socials and some don’t do many. Banking and corporate have drinks trolleys once a month, but the smaller groups like disputes don’t do much.” There are separate team and trainee budgets, and "we usually go out every couple of months, if a new person joins or at Christmas.”
“There’s no air of superiority; no ‘oh I’m a City lawyer aren’t I fantastic’.”
‘One for all, all for one’ was the message that trainees got. “There’s no air of superiority; no ‘oh I’m a City lawyer aren’t I fantastic’,”one source noted appreciatively. “We all know we’re part of a bigger corporate structure and at the end of the day, we’re all working a desk job.”Dentons requested 8.5% pay cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic, and trainees were pleased to see “the executives take cuts too.It’s not like they were sitting in their ivory towers making money and we just had to live with it: we actually live the buzzwords we plaster everywhere, there’s an overwhelming attitude that we’re a team.”
Mid-seat appraisals are easy enough informal chats; end of seat reviews “are a bit of a nightmare,”with trainees citing similar issues as in the seat allocation process. “We need less admin, so we can actually get on with our training contract,”said a trainee who compared their review form with that of a friend at another firm and found theirs to be significantly longer. Dentons grades trainees against core competencies; supervisors then add a blurb, as do trainees themselves, and together they agree development goals for the next seat. Fourth-seaters can apply for NQ jobs into up to two departments, but this too is a lengthy process. The “pretty intense” application form “is similar to the training contract application,” including questions on how trainees’ skills link to their chosen department. Some groups also set a written exercise and the process ends with an interview. By the time we went to press, Dentons had not disclosed its retention numbers.
No train, no gain
In addition to PSC training, Dentons hosts additional trainee-specific sessions on soft skills, plus “firmwide training about what clients want, which is very useful.”
How to get a Dentons training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 3 January 2021 (spring and summer)
Open day deadline (spring 2021): 3 January 2021 (spring and summer)
Training contract deadline (2023): 30 June 2021 (Opens on 3 December 2020)
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 advisor Rosie Buckley tells us when it comes to work experience, the firm "likes 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." 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,” Buckley 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 spring and summer in London, and during the summer across Milton Keynes and Scotland. 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, 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.”
One Fleet Place,
- Partners: 206
- Associates 439
- Total trainees 81
- UK offices 4
- Overseas offices 184
- Graduate recruiter: [email protected] com
- Training partner: Nigel Webber, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 42
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 50
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 3rd December 2020
- Training Contract Deadline: 30th June 2021
- 2022 start date: August 2023
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st October 2020
- Vacation scheme applications close: 3rd January 2021
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £44,000 (London), £31,000 (Milton Keynes), £24, 000 (Scotland)
- Second-year salary: £48,000 (London), £34,000 (Milton Keynes), £26,000 (Scotland)
- Post-qualification salary: £75,000 (London), £48,000 (Milton Keynes), £40, 000 (Scotland)
- Holiday entitlement: 24
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes – amount dependent on location.
Main areas of work
Trainees are able to choose from a wealth of seats, to work with experts across our trainee practice areas: banking and finance, competition, corporate, dispute resolution, ETI (energy, transport and infrastructure), private client, PRM (people, reward and mobility), real estate, tax and TMT (technology, media and telecommunications).
Work is also about more than work here. It's about the environment too, and the feeling you get from your team, office and beyond. Our teams are also focused on inclusion and diversity, giving back, and on looking forward with innovation.
The business of law is changing, and we want you to be right there with it. To take us from largest to leading, we're looking for our trainees to think big and see the future of law in a new way. On top of our existing development program, our market leading training contract includes three new modules: legal project management, innovation and resilience. All designed to help you become the lawyer of the future. Our training contracts consist of four six-month seats, where along with seats in our practice groups, trainees have the opportunity to work in one of our global offices, or directly with one of our clients over a six-month secondment. The modernised training contract marks the first stage in your journey from lawyer to leader. The lawyers of the future start here.
By attending our Vacation Scheme, you'll automatically be assessed for our Training Contract. This could be the start of something much bigger.
• Spring (London only) – 6th – 16th April 2021
• Summer (London, Milton Keynes, Glasgow & Edinburgh) – 5th – 16th July 2021
Want to get a feel for what a legal career with us is really like? Our vacation schemes balance real work with training and networking, to give you a holistic view of Dentons and an insight into our way of life.
Application Process: Online application form > Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Test > Behavioural Telephone Interview > Assessment Centre
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Inclusion and Diversity at Dentons is sponsored by our CEO, Jeremy Cohen, and shaped by our people and diversity networks: Inspire (Gender Equality), Black Professionals Network, GLOW (LGBT+), Fusion (Asian Professionals Network) and our Parents and Carers Network.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
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