In 2019 DWF floated on the London Stock Exchange for £370m, making it the UK's largest listed law firm.
Some firms are nervous to float, knowing that they will have to battle with the competing demands of keeping shareholders happy and staff well paid and motivated. And in 2020, DWF's chief executive Andrew Leaitherland was booted out by the board after 20 years at the firm. Leaitherland had been DWF's CEO and managing partner since 2006. Leaitherland grew DWF from a provincial outfit of two offices to a business with 33 offices around the world. His departure came as a surprise to many in the legal market. DWF announced Leaitherland's departure in a trading statement where it stated that it had been hit harder by Covid than anticipated.
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.
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 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".
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).
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; see the DWF Foundation. Some staff said the firm wasvery keen on promoting itself, with one claiming, "if you spend all day on Yammer and Linkedin preaching the firm's 'values' then you will be fine". Meanwhile "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.