In 2010, DWS merged with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal to create SNR Denton. Or SNRD, as we liked to call it - like you're attempting to hack up a furball. Then in 2013 it gobbled up Salans and Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain, and emerged as a beautiful butterfly called Dentons.
There's a history of slightly incongruous mergers here, too. Denton Hall's 2000 merger with Wilde Sapte was always going to be a marriage of unlikely bedfellows. Denton Hall was a respected media outfit, whereas Wilde Sapte specialised in banking and finance. But in the past decade the firm has tried hard to establish itself as a serious City player. Rumour has it that when it opened new offices on Chancery Lane the powers that be opened up a back entrance just so they could technically say that it was a City firm.
It's been a bit of a bumpy journey - some disasters the result of misfortune but others entirely of its own making. In 2003 it axed 70 staff, including 40 solicitors, and two thirds of its qualifying trainees. Later in the year it kissed goodbye to its European network of offices, before bidding sayonara to its Asian presence in 2004. At the time, it left DWS's reputation as an international firm dead in the water, but its amibitions have changed. In 2014 it opened in Cape Town, Casablanca, Houston and Astana in glamorous Kazakhstan. And in 2015 the firm became the biggest law firm in the world when it merged with Dacheng in China and McKenna Long & Aldridge in the US to create a behemoth.
There's some very good stuff at the gargantuan firm. The firm’s energy and project finance reputation is very healthy, its banking and finance groups are performing more than respectably and pre credit crunch its real estate group was going great guns. More importantly in today’s climate, the firm can challenge the Magic Circle when it comes to asset finance, restructuring and insolvency instructions.
When DWS became SNRD there were reports of large-scale defections, demands that non-equity partners pump in £20k each and a pretty shonky trainee retention rate of 56%. Has the the latest bedding-in period as Dentons been as tricky? Possibly not. Trainee retention has been solid. In September 2015, the firm kept on 16 of its 20 trainees, Revenue in UKMEA rose 6% in 2014/15 and profit rose 12% to £42.4m. In 2015/16, turnover rose again, by 7.7%, to £169m., and profits rose to £47.2m. Although the firm has refused to reveal its global figures for the past couple of years, despite the American Lawyer doing its best to speculate.
The atmosphere at Dentons seems to be quite positive.
In the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year Survey the firm was praised for being "very open door and non hierarchical" with "good working arrangements for working parents". It was also reported that "Teams get on well together" and assistants should bear in mind that the firm has made up more partners than pretty much anyone else in recent years. However, some lawyers criticised a confused identity and "bad communication" from management, and there were also mutterings about penny-pinching to control costs. Or, as one solicitor put it, "as tight as a trout's arse in water". Staff seemed to be happy with the "City-standard" work, but with a culture that allows for "more breaks in-between big jobs than you might get in the magic circle boiler rooms". Some lawyers were also impressed that the recent expansion had resulted in "refreshingly little by way of American nonsense" and that whilst "some people may dislike global domination" at least the firm could "point to a fairly coherent strategy". One staffer was just pleased that "our business cards have our names written in Chinese on the back". However, being part of the behemoth does have its downsides as one lawyer complained that "we merge so often I genuinely have no idea where we have offices" whilst another bemoaned that the market might not appreciate the strategy of "growth for the sake of growth".
Lawyers were mostly positive on promotion chances. The firm, said one lawyer, "appears to operate on a one out, one in policy when it comes to partners, causing the firm's hierarchical structure to look less like a pyramid and more like the big square building in Washington" from which its leaders "plot world domination". But another senior said the firm "will promote depending on talent rather than PQE", adding, "I have found them to be very good at progressing women into leadership and generally committed to diversity" and assuring us that there's "lots of potential and opportunity for committed lawyers". Career progression, said a colleague, "is set out in detail with clear steps on how to achieve it".
Training was almost universally praised. "The work is varied and challenging and there is a genuine commitment to supporting professional development", said a senior lawyer. A trainee said it was "absolutely excellent", and they weren't alone.
The London office building lets itself down though. It "looks like an incomplete game on Jenga on the outside" and "everything on the inside is peeling (paint, floors) or broken (air conditioning, lights, doors)", said a respondent. Fix it, they beg, "so long as it doesn't allow management to enact plans for firm-wide open plan working". Others agreed that the City offices needed "deep cleaning and decorating". They "won an award for 'Best Building' in 1995", said one of the lawyers within them, "and don't appear to have had an upgrade since".
Some flak for the regional office: the salaries "are substantially less than those in the London office, despite the regional offices regularly billing more and working longer hours", claimed one of its worker bees. So "the salaries in the London office are pretty good, but if you're in Watford (18 mins from central London), expect to lose on average a grand a minute for each minute you are out of London". Though the Milton Keynes office "is nice".
As for work/life balance, in the majority of departments it is, said a solicitor "incredible - which means salaries get an excellent rating". Although they conceded "our banking teams are likely to disagree".
On the downside, there's "no firm-wide Xmas party, just departmental", but on the upside it "feels like a firm in the early stages of reinvigorating its UK efforts and promising to be much improved in 3-5 years". Communication is "quite open and management are always updating staff on their strategy and plans". Which, so far, appears to be: take over eeever-reee-thiiing.
NB salaries listed are for London - they are less in the regions where first year trainees are on £28,500, second years £30k and NQs £40k.