In 2007 Davies Wallis Foyster, as it was then known, was plying its trade in the North-West as a humble four-office practice in Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Leeds. However, over the last decade the new, improved DWF has beefed up considerably and is now based in 16 locations with over 2,300 staff.
The firm has been on a merger spree over the last few years grabbing offices nationally and overseas. Additions include Newcastle in 2011; Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh in 2012; Bristol and Dublin in 2013; London in 2014; Dubai and Brussels in 2015; and Cologne and Munich in 2016. The financials have grown significantly too, with net profit rising from £8.5m in 2010 to £22m in 2016. And revenue has also gone up significantly from £71.5m in 2010 to £187.1m in 2016. Although it remains to be seen whether the firm can continue such a fast rate of growth since, in the last two years, revenue has plateaued.
The firm has a stellar list of clients including the likes of Adidas, Aviva, Barclays, Telefonica UK Limited, Marks & Spencer, Royal Bank of Scotland, RSA and Virgin trains. It has worked on some high profile matters including representing Iceland foods at the House of Commons Select Committee during the 'horsemeat scandal'; defending Morrisons in a massive data breach claim; acting for Travelers Insurance in the PIP Group Litigation case regarding faulty silicone breast implants; representing Zurich Insurance in the landmark Supreme Court Case which clarified how mesothelioma claims are handled; and advising Colony Capital on the £311m purchase of the Gemini property portfolio.
Whilst DWF still has some way to go before becoming a truly global player, its relatively compact size on the international scene means that it hasn't had to retrench post-Brexit, unlike some of the gigantic firms. Chief executive and Managing partner Andrew Leaitherland believes that DWF's size puts it in a strong position since it can "learn from others in determining the best route for growth".
Growth by way of acquisition means some staff are of the view that the firm is "focused on size above all", telling RollOnFriday in the Firm of the Year 2017 survey that the "obsession with mergers has got ridiculous". Others are more positive, with a junior solicitor vouching for "a buzz within the firm" thanks to its ambition, and a partner offering up that "the results we are getting are impressive. It feels like it is all coming together". Joining a larger firm has proven a culture shock for some, with one partner grumbling that "everything is very centralised". A solicitor said, "it's the Manchester Mothership with its weird ways and the other offices", which "are pretty chilled out to be fair".
The firm performed OK in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2017 survey, scoring 65% overall (having finished with a very decent 75% in the Firm of the Year 2016). A few grumbles focused on uncompetitive pay, and, said a lawyer, "some of the offices need updating to bring in line with Manchester, London & Glasgow" (in London, "the views from our offices in the Walkie Talkie are incredible" said a lawyer there). It came 43rd in 2018, with 64%.
Trainees were almost unanimously positive about their experience. One said it was, as one would hope, "structured" and "well planned" . There was a criticism from Scotland, where one trainee said seat choice "is terrible", because "most trainees end up being made to do a double seat in real estate". The horror. Further up the ladder, a junior said there was "lots of trust and exposure to clients, allowing you to build relationships".
There were plaudits from lawyers for a "good" work/life balance which, said a junior solicitor "is achievable". The working hours, agreed a senior solicitor, "are not excessive. You are expected to work hard, but not judged for leaving at 6 - 6.30pm".
The firm is also "big on corporate social responsibility", said staff, while "Friday Fridge is a nice thing - free drinks at the end of the month".
Dozens of DWF staff praised its agile working initiatives. "Fantastic", said one. "I have a baby and a horse and need to be flexible", said another, richer, one. A junior solicitor said that, despite DWF "being essentially a patchwork of around 3,000,000 different firms", its culture "is clear and people seem to genuinely buy into it". As for the brand, said a junior solicitor, "I am no longer surprised when people HONESTLY think I work at a furniture store".
* NB The salary mentioned in the profile is for London trainees. Salary for other offices may vary.