Dechert LLP - The Inside View

Philadelphia-born and raised, the fresh prince of “global specialist” law spends most of its days with massive clients.

BIG firms love to shout from the rooftops about their international prowess, but Dechert's juniors are happy to back up the boasts: “I feel like we've got a lot of clients who engage the firm because of its expertise across the entire world,” said one. Another commended Dechert as “one of the few firms with both a fully-fledged Philadelphia office and an international footprint.” This Philly-born go-getter clearly has a taste for global expansion: it's opened 13 new offices since the turn of the millennium, including five in 2012 alone.

CEO Henry Nassau characterizes Dechert with its broad footprint as “having domain expertise in four or five areas, and we try to stay focused on those. We don't try to be all things to all people.” Our interviewees highlighted “stellar white collar and exciting securities litigation practices,” while Chambers USA ranks these and many corporate-related practices, regionally and nationwide. Visit chambersandpartners.com and search 'Dechert' for the firm's detailed listings  and achievements across the various global Chambers guides.

The Work



Almost all new associates join the litigation, corporate & securities, finance & real estate, or financial services team. A few go into antitrust, international arbitration or tax, and Silicon Valley gets a cohort of IP juniors. Associates tend to get work initially through a formal assignment method, sending weekly availability reports to practice group coordinators, as “early on you have less ability to find your own work, because you've got no track record.” After that, it's much more informal: “If I want to branch out into a new area, I'd just look for that work.”

“We might lead a conference call and directly implement their feedback.”

There are, however, variations by practice area: in financial services, associates are “split into four or five different client teams. It's a pretty good system. The teams are large so if somebody's overworked it's easy to recommend they assign work to somebody else.” Work covers “every corner of the market,” split generally into “mutual and private funds. We represent the funds themselves and independent trustees generally.” The daily grind is to the tune of “a regular hum of filings and various board memos. We're reviewing client documents, making sure they're compliant with requirements and providing comments.” After a settling-in period, interviewees found climbing the totem pole easy. “What I like about Dechert is once you gain the trust of someone you move on quickly.” Some third-years even got given “supervisory work, reviewing more junior attorneys,” relishing the chance to be the boss at such an early stage.

In corporate, practice group coordinators allocate work initially, though in offices with fewer corporate partners “it comes more directly from them.” Associates thought “the good thing about Dechert is we do a little bit of everything,” including life sciences, capital markets and private equity work. Newcomers inevitably come up against due diligence, but also “take the first cut at drafting a lot of documents. On the M&A side, ancillary documents outside the merger agreement are the ball in our court.” Associates felt the firm “wants you to gain more responsibility early on, and gives you tasks so you can get that.” As such, “there's a lot of direct client contact quickly. We might lead a conference call and directly implement their feedback.” Interviewees took varying work volumes in their stride: “We always joke about being preconditioned to be nervous wrecks when things aren't busy!”

Those who fall under the 'general litigation' banner can take on anything for two years, before choosing between either the complex commercial or white collar and securities group. Initially taking work from both, juniors “do a lot of legal research and writing memos. There's a lot of document review in the first few years, and as litigation goes forward we do deposition prep and prepare witness kits.” Clients tend to be “pretty variable, mainly Fortune 500 companies.” The firm deals with “a lot of breach of contract cases and other contractual issues.” As in other areas, juniors found “the workload ebbs and flows; it's nothing I wouldn't have anticipated. Averaged out, the firm does a pretty good job of giving associates enough interesting work.” Client contact tends to be minimal at first, then increases with experience, with a big jump around the third year.

“It's nothing I wouldn't have anticipated.”

Training & Development



“Very practice group-specific training” includes “biweekly lunch sessions” for litigators, “covering the whole litigation process over a year.” Corporate hosts “annual programs that ping-pong between private transactions one year, public the next,” while in financial services “training covers general topics in investment management law.” For the firm as a whole, the monthly Critical Skills Institute program is designed to develop communication, leadership, client relations and management skills, but many felt “the most valuable thing is Dechert places a large emphasis on individualized instruction and mentoring.” The firm incentivizes exceptional mentors with $10,000 cash rewards.

“Individualized instruction and mentoring.”

Formal reviews take place twice a year, for which associates fill out forms that highlight what they've worked on for more than 15 hours, and who with. Partners and seniors then send written evaluations – “you end up having dozens of reviewers.” When quizzed about the everyday, most juniors felt higher-ups “take the extra two minutes to give some feedback, so when I go into the reviews I'm not surprised by what I hear.” Some desired more consistency between partners in this regard, but commended senior associates for being “more likely to provide lengthy feedback” on a day-to-day basis.

Culture



“What I think is really great is that we are all proud to be at Dechert, but our lives are not just Dechert,” was the neat summary provided by one associate we interviewed. Suggesting that “we don't socialize with coworkers as much as some other big firms, but we're very respectful of each other's time,” most agreed that “it's more relaxed when we do have social events because we're not forced to go.” These “relaxed” events range from Monday breakfasts in Washington, DC (“it's popular, but a bit grab and go!”) to a firmwide Hallowe'en costume contest (“the winning office got an extra happy hour.”) Cultural perceptions varied geographically: a Boston junior thought their smaller team was “more tight-knit, so things are more relaxed,” whereas in Chicago “the culture is different because people here are young and hours-driven.”

“Across the board here, partners are close to associates and try to include them rather than being totally above them.” Several interviewees happily trashed the scary BigLaw partner stereotype: “The Dechert way is to encourage, not scare associates. A great thing here is constant reinforcement that you're fully capable of doing anything – there will be setbacks, but you'll improve.” Though many “haven't really heard about management decisions until they come down from above,” others were “very confident” in the firm being transparent – opinions differed by office. Several felt “it's not something I'm concerned about, but my impression is things are going well.”

“We don't socialize as much as some other big firms, but we're very respectful of each other's time.”

Pro Bono & Diversity



Juniors gushed about the firm's commitment to pro bono: “It's a major way that Dechert distinguishes itself, and a big reason why some people end up coming here.” All attorneys are required to devote at least 25 hours to pro bono, and juniors can count up to 200 hours toward their billing target, after which permission is required to count more. But everybody we interviewed reported “it's really easy to ask for an extension, especially in litigation where everybody goes over 200.” Firm-run pro bono clinics supplement longer-term projects including landlord/tenant work, education hearings and prisoner rights cases. Awards ceremonies celebrate those who go above and beyond, but interviewees didn't need a trophy to feel rewarded. “You learn a lot about other work from non-profit cases. It has a direct impact on your skills going forward.” At the Chambers Diversity Awards 2016, Dechert was nominated for the pro bono program of the year.

“A big reason why some people end up coming here.”

Pro bono hours

  •   For all US attorneys: 77,671
  •   Average per US attorney: 103

Less overjoyed on the diversity front, associates explained “it's diverse at junior level, but there's not good representation at the top. That's as good as it gets in BigLaw!” That said, the two largest offices have female partners running them, while those in smaller offices including Chicago, Los Angeles and Orange County celebrated having an “incredibly diverse” workplace, with the caveat that “the firm as a whole is not so much from what I've seen.” One noted “a lot of turnover of diverse attorneys, I don't know why,” but to counteract this Dechert has an array of affinity groups that include Asian, Black, Latino and LGBT groups, and most visibly the Global Women's Initiative. Associates were happy that “the firm doesn't overemphasize diversity initiatives, it's not in-your-face. I think it's a good balance of making sure you know where to go, but it's not over the top.”

Hours & Compensation



Reaching the yearly billing target of 1,950 hours makes you bonus eligible. “If you hit the total you get a market bonus. There's a chance you can get more for going beyond that but there's no real clarity about how that works.” Juniors thought “the target's fairly easily achievable when you include the generous pro bono setup,” though some went on to say “you need to take the initiative if your practice area isn't busy all the time.” Most felt that left time for a decent private life: “If you're in professional services and you make plans before 8pm you might be late, but 1,950 hours at least leaves room to make plans.” Associates get 20 days of vacation a year, and when some didn't take it “the firm sent out an email saying people weren't using their vacation, encouraging those who hadn't to do so.”

“There was doubt they'd stay committed, but they did.”

Dechert matched the new market associate salary scale (starting at $180,000) in all of its offices, which some considered “a nice surprise.” A minority felt that “based on the firm's aspirations and who they consider their peers, I thought they'd have matched more quickly,” but most were simply happy to get paid more. Philadelphia and Princeton associates were particularly chuffed, as they'd only been boosted to the $160,000 scale in spring 2015. “Management had then agreed to pay everybody in the US the same. There was doubt they'd stay committed, but they did and carried through on that promise.”

Offices & Strategy



Dechert's story began in Philly, but New York juniors implied their base had become the mothership. They enjoyed “glass walls in very modern, nicely sized offices. There are pretty amazing views of the Empire State Building.” Not to be outdone, Philadelphians declared “the building is great. It's convenient because we're right next to the station. The only negative is we're not in the center of the city.” First-years normally get their own office, except New Yorkers who share for the first few months. Boston juniors loved being on the “40th and 41st floors, overlooking Boston harbor,” while in Los Angeles “the actual building is okay but the downtown location is perfect.”

“You don't need to be rooted in an office to work on something.”

From coast to coast, interviewees felt “Dechert has done a good job of establishing continuity across offices. Everything is integrated, and communication is one of the great strengths of the firm.” This extended to international collaboration (for a closer look at Dechert's overseas offices, head to the firm's online profile Bonus Features). One junior characterized it as a “very nimble approach. You don't need to be rooted in an office to work on something – they find who the best person is.” Financial services, for instance, is practiced by attorneys across the country but mostly coordinated in DC.

CEO Henry Nassau explains: “With the use of new technologies, we as a firm have evolved to be less focused on where a lawyer is seated, and instead consider where the best lawyer is available. On the East Coast, we frequently staff projects as a collaboration between New York, Philadelphia and DC.He points to the Big Apple office in particular as a future growth opportunity, and reveals the firm has “no current plans to open any new offices. We're very focused on where we're going to build out – the next location would likely be Shanghai, but we have a lot of building out to do in Asia.”

Interview with CEO, Henry Nassau



 

Chambers Associate: What are the most exciting things the firm has done in the past year?

HN: We lived through Brexit and Donald Trump! In all seriousness, I think getting the leadership of the London office realigned was really important, and it's suddenly exploded on the work front. We've added four new lateral finance partners, getting the private equity practice in line with other major cities around the globe. That's top of the list for sure.

CA: In your new role as CEO, what would say are the primary goals for Dechert going forward?

HN: Part of it is evaluating the basic hygiene of the firm. We have a high performance culture, so we always need to take a good look in the mirror and see if we're performing to the standard we expect of ourselves. We're looking therefore to see if people are adding value and working hard – we have flexibility, and some people can and do work part-time, but we have to make sure we don't have people just sitting around.

Secondly, we need to grow, in particular our mega bases in New York and London where we have the biggest opportunities. A number of our smaller offices have not yet reached critical mass, and we need to fit those into our global framework. It's also of course important to make sure life for associates is rewarding, and that people are having fun.

CA: The firm has expanded enormously since the turn of the millennium; are there any new offices in the pipeline?

HN: No new offices as of yet. We've just recently had our joint venture with the Law Firm of Hassan Mahassni in Saudi Arabia, and there are no current plans to open any new offices. We're very focused on where we're going to build out – the next location would likely be Shanghai, but we have a lot of building out to do in Asia.

CA: With technology evolving rapidly, how do you see the legal market developing in the next few years, and how do you plan to adapt?

HN: We will adapt however our clients require us to. We're focused on starting with our clients' needs, enhancing internal collaboration and working from there. Clearly technology is changing the world and society as a whole. I don't think AI is something that's looming at the door of the immediate future, but the financial analysis tools for project management are much more sophisticated now. With the use of new technologies, we as a firm have evolved to be much less focused on where a lawyer is seated, and instead consider where the best lawyer available is. For instance, on the East Coast, we frequently staff projects as a collaboration between New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Our Financial Services Group has two very tech-based tools for funds clients: World Compass, which has been a great service for a few years, and the newly launched World Passport.

CA: How will Trump's election affect the market? Are there any particular areas that you think we'll see a lot of activity in?

HN: In general my view is – and this may show my general distaste for politics – when it's all said and done, more is said than done. I look at what's happening with Brexit, and that seems so complicated that notwithstanding all the declarations of a hard exit, I'll believe it when I see it. Something will happen, but I don't know what – to date the world has not collapsed. In regards to Trump, he has a lot of rhetoric, but we have yet to see what will actually be done.

My reaction is that there clearly will be things that change – it's hard to believe the Affordable Care Act will remain fully in place. When you're looking at the heavy regulation of financial institutions, I don't think Dodd-Frank will stay intact. But I don't think there'll be a wall going up. Globalization is not going to be stopped, and that's something we at Dechert are very happy about.

CA: What do you think makes Dechert unique?

HN: I think the attributes are: we have domain expertise in four or five areas, and try to stay focused on those. They are white collar and complex commercial litigation, funds work and investment management, private equity, intellectual property and real estate finance. We don't try to be all things to all people, and that's something that defines us. Secondly, we've always taken pride in being comfortable giving business advice as well as legal advice. We feel we should take these positions and we don't know how to do one without the other. We like our collegiality and our global footprint: among the AmLaw 50, when you look at percentage of lawyers outside the US, we're top five.

When I wake up, I always say to myself my job is to make sure all my colleagues are successful; to find a way to grow our revenues and our offices; to make sure we're a high performance culture with no free riders; to enhance collaboration and to make the associate experience more rewarding. Most millennials stay in a firm for 2.4 years, and those who stay want to make a career here. And most importantly, it's part of my job to make sure we all have fun here.

CA: What advice would you give to a law student reading our guide?

HN: This is a demanding and incredibly rewarding job and career opportunity, but not everybody wants. I came to practice law 30 years ago, and there hasn't been a day that I've regretted it. Every day you get to work on interesting projects. I came back to work at Dechert after a short stint in private industry because I get to work every day with people who are smarter than me. I've had the opportunity to be COO of a public business, to be an active investor, and to build a global legal practice. I pinch myself over it! A lot of lawyers are miserable, but I say that there are plenty of opportunities still there. If you find an intellectual connection it can be very exciting.

CA: Is there anything else you feel our readers should know about Dechert?

HN: I think we're going to surprise ourselves in how successfully we build up our five biggest offices – Philadelphia, DC, New York, London and Paris. I think we're going to have huge success with those.

 

Interview with hiring partner Jim Lebovitz



 

Chambers Associate: What type of person thrives at Dechert?

Jim Lebovitz: The type of person who does really well here is someone who comes into  a practice group they're really interested in. I find there's an extra gear you can shift into if you really like the subject matter of what you're working on. We're also looking for people who are intellectually curious and naturally inquisitive, with good communication skills. Those who have achieved academically, as well.

CA: What can students do while at law school to impress in their applications?

JL: To an extent, having a particular interest in a practice group is one thing. If you're interviewing someone who really wants to work in a particular group, then you look at the classes they have taken and if nothing fits with what they say they want to do, it doesn't hold together. If they're interested in litigation, have they done trial advocacy and moot court? If corporate, have they done anything with an entrepreneurial club? We look for something that gives what a candidate is saying credibility.

On the other hand, if they don't know what they want to do, that's fine. The nice thing at Dechert is they have the chance to find what they like during the summer. What matters is that your story holds together.

CA: Are the questions asked at interview quite uniform, or more personalized for each candidate?

JL: It depends on the interviewer. Mine tend to be quite personalized, I spend some time reading the person's resume and usually circle three or four interesting things that I'll use to start the discussion. Those topics are then launching pads for other discussion points. Interviews with less experiences typically start with more traditional questions, then get into topics with a different direction. For the interviewee, I'd hope each is different. If you did the exact same interview for everybody, it would be hard to bring the same sense of importance.

CA: What makes someone stand out at interview in the wrong way?

JL: The kiss of death is having something on their resume that they can't talk about. Say the candidate is in New York, and they say they love theater. Then you ask them about the last time they went to a play, and they say three years ago! I know everyone's working hard so it can be difficult to fit other things in, but your story has to hold together. Another thing that's a bit negative is if they haven't done their homework about the firm. They should spend a little time going through the website, finding out who we are and what we do. One person said he wanted to work in a practice group we don't have! We expect interviewees to take the process as seriously as we do.

CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting, and how has that evolved?

JL: We visit 45 schools and fairs during the four week basic interview period. We've been pleased with our success at recruiting diverse students. Our numbers have been solid in terms of summers, that's something we're sensitive to, and when we recruit a diverse student they're contacted by the relevant affinity group at the firm, which they can be part of if they choose. Our affinity groups are very active and very open to providing mentors.

CA: What makes the Dechert summer program distinctive, compared to those at other firms?

JL: Everyone thinks their firm is distinctive! The qualities that make ours excellent include that we don't manufacture work, it's as real as they can handle. We put them in the same position as first years, so it's a true first-year experience. Moreover, the personality of the lawyers here and culture of the firm is such that all our lawyers are approachable, and there's a comfort zone in terms of asking questions. The assignment process guarantees a stable workload, and it's organized so we keep track of everyone, making sure they get plenty of representative work. From the top-down here we believe in a collaborative work environment and I believe the summers get a good look at that.

The other thing that's good at Dechert is the opportunity to get assignments from whatever groups you're interested in. The assignment process is complemented by enough flexibility to reach out to people informally. We also have great events in that they're really thoughtfully developed with regard to the audience, location... it's a nice balance between work and entertainment, getting to know the city and your colleagues.

CA: How would you summarize the culture at Dechert, and how do you ensure that new associates fit in with that culture?

JL: First thing's first, it's a high performance culture. It's also less hierarchical than many expect. We're driven by a practice group model, not an office one, so groups practice across all offices. For example, if you are working on a transaction, you can be on a team that includes lawyers in Paris, London, Philadelphia and New York. Mentors have an open door policy, and there are social events at both the practice group and office level.

We keep close track of associates to make sure they're getting the right work and exposure to enough people across the firm. It's in our best interests for them to stay on here and succeed. Our mentors and the great Critical Skills Institute are always well received by our summer associates.

CA: Finally, is there anything else our readers should know about the recruitment process or the firm as a whole?

JL: We continue to hire a couple of 1Ls through different programs. This year we had a great recruiting season, and we're going to have a great summer program.

 

Get Hired



 

The overwhelming consensus among associates describing the Dechert interview process was “it's very general, with no left curves. The interview questions are very typical.” One corporate source found “there was nothing specific to my skills or to securities work, it was more geared towards my interests. From speaking to the managing partner, they're more concerned about hiring people that will want to do the work.” As such, they advocated “indicating an interest in the practice area, they will ask about what interests you.” Another found that “we talked about current events rather than the law.” The Dechert callback process involves current associates taking candidates out to lunch, to “get to know the person in order to assess whether they will be the right fit.”

Journals and moot court programs provided a big boost to the applications of those we interviewed - “finding an organization that helps you find out what's going on in the legal realm helps. If not, get heavily involved in something else to show an interest outside of your classes.” Though some suggested “it's not just about good grades,” others countered “grades unfortunately matter a lot. It's important for law students to not lose sight of that. Be very protective of grades, so that part of your resume is solid.”

Beyond that, associates recommended “research assistant positions are really helpful, if you've gone above and beyond and developed a good relationship with a professor that increases your chances of being considered.” One pointed out that in a general sense “getting to know your professors is important, they'll write your recommendation letters!” Looking back at their own experience, another associate recounted “when I went through OCIs, I over-analyzed my answers and tried to memorize them. The process is getting to know you as a person, not a play by play analysis.”

Finally, look into whether a split summer is available. “It's good to be interested in splitting summers between offices, I didn't know that necessarily. I wish I'd seen different offices with more work – if possible go to places with specialisms in different practice groups.”

More on Dechert's overseas offices



 

The firm's first footfall beyond the States was established in 1968, when it opened an office in Brussels – poised to take advantage of what was then the nascent European Economic Community. Within five years, Dechert had also established a presence in London, which grew significantly in 2000 with the full acquisition of a firm formerly known as Titmuss Sainer & Webb. But those initial forays were only the start – the firm now has eight offices in Europe including in Dublin, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Moscow, Munich and Paris. The latter is now one of the five largest bases in the network, and has earned an array of Chambers Europe rankings including a top commendation in life sciences.

In 2007, Dechert it opened its doors in Hong Kong – a year later this was supplemented by a Beijing base. The Asia-Pacific region is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and to capitalize the firm established an office in Singapore in 2014. Chambers Asia applauds the firm in the region as a whole, including for its investment funds work in particular. Central Asia and the Caucasus are less talked-about, but Dechert also has offices in Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Tbilisi (Georgia).

A perhaps more volatile area, the Middle East has had a tricky relationship with international law firms, who have sometimes struggled to maintain a presence there.  Dechert does have a base in Dubai, the typical epicenter for law firms in the region, but also operates a joint venture with the Law Firm of Hassan Mahassni in Saudi Arabia, so its network also extends to Riyadh and Jeddah. Multiple associates we spoke to said they'd done work in collaboration with the Middle East bases and elsewhere, one reveling in having “represented Chinese and French nationals, and US nationals abroad. I've worked with London, Hong Kong, Beijing and Dubai.”

Dechert LLP

Cira Centre,
2929 Arch Street,
Philadelphia,
PA 19104-2808
Website www.dechert.com

1095 Avenue of the Americas,
New York,
NY 10036-6797

  • Main Offices: Philadelphia / New York
  • Number of domestic offices: 13
  • Number of international offices: 15
  • Worldwide revenue: $911,594,815
  • Partners (US): 216
  • Associates (US): 400
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: $3,468/week
  • 2Ls: $3,468/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,468/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes, case by case
  • Summers 2017: 72 2Ls 
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 71 2L offers, 58 2L acceptances

Main areas of work
Dechert delivers legal expertise and commercial insight in our core practices: antitrust; banking and financial institutions; bankruptcy, business restructuring and reorganization; corporate; employee benefits and executive compensation; energy and natural resources; finance; financial services and investment management; intellectual property; international arbitration; international tax and private client services; international trade and government regulation; life sciences; litigation; pro bono; and real estate.

Firm profile
Dechert is a global law firm focused on sectors with the greatest complexities, legal intricacies and highest regulatory demands. With 28 offices in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the firm offers attractive locations in which to live and work. Dechert is a leading global law firm for pro bono services. The American Lawyer consistently ranks us in the top 10 law firm pro bono programs.|

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 61
• Number of 2nd year associates: 57
• Associate salaries: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Boston College; Boston University; Catholic University; Columbia; Cornell; Duke; Fordham; George Washington University; Georgetown; Harvard; Hofstra University; Howard; New York University; Northwestern; Stanford; Temple; UCLA; UC Berkeley; UC Hastings; Chicago; Connecticut; Michigan; North Carolina; University of Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh; USC; Texas; Virginia; Vanderbilt; Villanova; Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Strong academic background and communication, leadership, management and client relations skills indicating a high likelihood of success as a lawyer at the firm.

Summer program components:
Summer associates will discover firsthand what it’s like to work at one of the world’s most respected and dynamic global law firms. Our summer associates do not formally rotate through practice groups or departments; rather, they work across all the practice groups. A variety of work assignments allows summer associates to gain a broad perspective and get a close-up view of the practice of law. Beyond client-based assignments, we encourage summer associates to attend closings, depositions, hearings, oral arguments, trials, negotiations, and board meetings. Summer associates are assigned at least one associate mentor and one partner mentor and attend practice group meetings and training. We offer summer associate-specific training sessions throughout the program. Through our program, we provide summer associates with a realistic view of what it’s like to practice law at Dechert.