Dechert LLP - The Inside View

“Dechert is an amazing line to have on your resume,” boasted juniors who were glad to work at this “corporate & securities powerhouse.” 

THE Big Apple outweighs scrapple (the Pennsylvania delicacy) at Dechert, for the New York office is the largest at this Philly-founded firm. Over the years, numerous notable lawyers have called the firm home. The primary American judge in the Nuremberg trials, Francis Biddle, was a partner from 1916 until 1939, for example. Arlen Specter practiced here for three years in the late 50s, before being tapped to serve on the Warren Commission, investigating the assassination of JFK. Norma Shapiro, who was Dechert's first female partner in 1973, still holds office as a US district court judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. And you can read our "Big Interview" with Edward McDonald, the lawyer in Goodfellas, elsewhere on this website.

High-profile attorneys attract high-profile clients. The list includes American Airlines, Pfizer and The Bank of New York Mellon. Associates felt that “Dechert is the best place to work in Philadelphia because of the nature of our deals.” Similarly, the firm's reputation for giving juniors “intellectually challenging work that isn't just cookie-cutter stuff” is enhanced by strong Chambers USA rankings, especially for corporate/M&A, litigation, and investment funds expertise. A Philadelphia junior believed that from their point view “finance & real estate and corporate & securities are our bread and butter, as they are the most profitable. The old perception was that Philly was a litigation powerhouse. Our business model has changed over the last ten years, so that the majority of litigation is in New York.”

The Work

We were given a list of 63 transactional associates to interview: 27 were in financial services; 19 in corporate & securities; 17 were in finance & real estate. Over in trial, 20 juniors were in general litigation, three in white-collar & securities litigation, and two in the complex commercial litigation group. IP claimed six, and there were three in antitrust/competition. Employee benefits, tax, business restructuring & reorganization, and labor each had one junior. Associates tend to get work initially through a formal assignment method and send weekly availability reports to their practice group coordinators. After that, it's much more informal. The corporate & securities group has the most formal assignment, and in the others “it's primarily relationship-based.”

“Finance & real estate and corporate & securities are our bread and butter." 

Typical first-year transactional work includes “reading estoppel certificates and reviewing tenancy agreements.” As an associate matures so does the work. One junior had “negotiated lots of SNDAs [Subordination Non-Disturbance and Attornment Agreements, which detail the rights of tenants if the rented property is foreclosed]. Another had waded through “pages and pages of due diligence, which is pretty much all you do for the first six months. But then you look at M&A alternative investment deals and SEC compliance by preparing information statements.” Manhattanites praised their ability to work on “cutting-edge, hybrid entity mutual funds.”

Litigators had “summarized the fiduciary case issues to get a real handle on the facts and law. You then draft briefs and prep witnesses.” For white-collar matters, work ranges from “attending depositions, putting together witness kits, writing legal memos and participating in legal strategy.” Antitrust, as a hybrid of litigation and corporate work, encompasses “HSR filings [Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act 1976 documentation], merger clearance and lots of discovery.”

Training & Development

"The partner is told to be bullish, so it's really fun.”

First-years usually have monthly sessions on different topics per practice area. Litigators divulged that “it's things like how to conduct and defend a deposition, how to do expert witness prep and how to write briefs. We also have a mock deposition program that's a whole day where you have to depose an actor who is defended by a partner. The partner is told to be bullish, so it's really fun.” Finance & real estate newbies told us that they had just started a private bootcamp that seniors run for two to three days. “Day one is how to do doc review and update document checklists. Day two is learning how to use the firm technology specific to our group.” New Dechertites, in particular, can make use of the Critical Skills Institute. This monthly program helps develop communication, leadership, client relations and management skills. The Shadowing Program also allows juniors to explore personal interest areas by observing partners “work on things you wouldn't normally get to see, and get credit for it [25 hours].

All this training doesn't go unnoticed. Senior associates who go the extra mile in helping rookies, can be nominated for the Exceptional Teacher Awards. Winners get a trophy and a handy $10,000 prize. “Seniors have the most work and they not only help you out on assignments, but also explain to you how everything fits into the bigger picture.”

Six months in, associates face midyear “informal check-ins, for general feedback.” Formal reviews happen six months later, when 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 for the practice group leader to walk the reviewee through.

Pro Bono

All attorneys, regardless of seniority, are required to devote at least 25 hours to pro bono projects. Juniors can count up to 200 hours toward their yearly billing target without asking anyone's permission. “If you go over that you just talk to the partner in charge, then the rest of it can count too.” Juniors liked doing pro bono because “you get to know the case better than everyone. It's the first time that I've been asked what I think. The partners listen to me.”

"It's the first time as an associate that you get to run the show.”

The full-time pro bono partner sends daily e-mails about latest opportunities. We heard of associates getting stuck into “defending a Guantánamo Bay detainee, doing legal research and fact checking.” Others had “worked on a criminal appeal and I'm in charge of drafting, submitting the brief and all of the oral arguments. It's the first time as an associate that you get to run the show.” Philly attorneys have worked in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Law School and their Transnational Legal Clinic, on immigration proceedings.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 49,461  
  • Average per US attorney: 78

Hours & Compensation

The yearly billing target of 1,950 hours doesn't faze associates. “It's no problem because in litigation you can bill from the second you get in. There's so much work.” Juniors broke it down for us, approximating that the target could be reached if you spend seven and a half hours in the office every day. But this doesn't take into account working from home, which most attorneys do. However, transactional novices detailed how they had “not left till 3am, but in a typical year that only happens like ten times.”

"Now we're the hotspot.”

Is it worth it? 1,950 hours makes you bonus-eligible. While most interviewees stressed that the firm was transparent about compensation, some felt that “superstars who put in a lot of extra effort only get a small bonus, so it hasn't been financially worth it.” Philly newcomers, however, had something to shout about this year. Juniors used to have a salary of $145,000, whereas their New York and even Hartford counterparts were on $160,000. “It didn't really matter at junior level when it's a difference of $15,000. But when you're a senior and it's about $60,000, then it's a problem.” Dechert now pays Philly associates the New York rate. “We were all doing the same work and billing at the same rate. People were leaving purely because they were lured by better financial packages. But now we're the hotspot.”

Offices and Culture

Of our interviewee pool, 36 juniors were in New York; 25 in Philadelphia; 14 in DC; seven in Boston; three or four in each of Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Orange County; and one or two in Charlotte, LA, Princeton, Hartford and Chicago. With an expansive network of 27 worldwide offices (13 domestic and 14 international), one junior went as far as to say that “if you're traveling and need to work, you're most likely to find an office wherever you are.” Closer to home, first-years normally get their own office, except New Yorkers, who must share for the first few months. 

"Let's split the baby there, down the middle.” 

Interviewees told us that, generally speaking, “people work hard but are respectful of your life outside of work.” Among the social activities of offer, we heard that New York hosts an office pie-baking contest. The winning pastry delight then gets baked by chefs in Dechert's kitchens for all to enjoy. Californians have a Halloween costume contest that has caught on in Pennsylvania too: “This year we had an inter-office contest per practice group. We all had different themes and because we are Philly, we all went as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”


“Since I've been here, you can definitely see it getting better. Even though there is still a way to go, Dechert is making a full-frontal effort.” How? Like most firms, Dechert has an array of affinity groups that include Asian, Black, Latino and LGBT groups. Most visible, however, is the Global Women's Initiative. In DC, there's “the occasional meeting where we discuss different topics like public speaking, or where new female partners speak to us about their journey.” Of the Diversity Committee-organized private performance of a 2012 off-Broadway play, Disgraced, one theater-goer said: “The play centered around a Muslim American attorney and how he dealt with his identity post 9/11. We got to do a Q&A with the cast and crew afterward.”

"The changes have to trickle up."

Some sources pointed out that at partner level "there's a big gender disparity, but attrition is part of it.” However, “it takes time. We can't hire a diverse pool of associates and change everything instantly. It takes ten years to make partner and then you're partner for 40 years. The changes have to trickle up. But we all care about it.”

Get Hired

Associates admitted that most firms will stress that it's all about personality. But juniors here were under few illusions about what counts first: “Grades, grades, grades.” DC juniors praised the benefits of studying “administrative or regulatory law because it gives you a lot of interview-talk fodder.” Hiring partner James Lebovitz further explains that “if you come in and say you want to be a litigator because you watch 'Suits' and that's it, that's not all bad, but show how it feeds into what you've done to further your interest.” Philadelphians advised that “when you're a second-year law student you don't know what you're talking about. Ask questions that articulate that you know you're thinking about the market and how you fit into it. Know who your interviewer is, because if you don't you're on a course for disaster.”

Strategy & Future

"Saudi Arabia has been a natural development in the growth of the firm.”

“Litigation is slammed,” enthused one source. “We have huge caseloads, which we haven't really had in the past few years.” On the corporate side, “it's been incredibly busy, but all of the work was generated in 2015. It depends on the market. If it's good, finance & real estate, tax, and general corporate will be good. If it's bad, we know that litigation and bankruptcy will be fine.” CEO Daniel O'Donnell adds that Dechert entered into “an association with the law firm of Hassan Mahassni in Saudi Arabia. It has been a great market for our core strength areas. For example, our capital markets and non-US M&A practices in particular are predominately run out of London and Dubai. So Saudi Arabia has been a natural development in the growth of the firm.” For Daniel O'Donnell's full interview, go online.

Recent Work Highlights 

  • Representing AbbVie in the national product litigation surrounding its product Androgel, which is a testosterone replacement therapy
  • Represented Bank of America Merrill Lynch Large Loan (BAMLL) as the issuer of a $1.25 billion single-asset securitization relating to a mortgage loan taken out by Saks Fifth Avenue in New York
  • Obtained a summary judgment for Pfizer regarding 'apparent manufacturer' claims concerning the product Insulag which was created by a bankrupt former subsidiary. The issues relate to the product potentially causing mesothelioma

Interview with CEO, Daniel O'Donnell

Chambers Associate: Where do you see the firm in five years?

Daniel O'Donnell: We want to continue to be a global specialist firm. We don’t want to try to do everything for everybody. Instead, we try to find areas where we will be in the upper echelon in terms of capabilities and focus on those. We will continue to do what we do best. We're also a big believer in diversification. We look at all of our practices so that we can achieve a rough balance in weighing those practices to hope to produce steady, sustainable growth. We want less volatility, because that's more dangerous for a law firm partnership than it is for a corporate enterprise. This is because law firms pay out essentially all of their profits each year to compensate their partners.

CA: Are there any current office expansion plans in the pipeline?

DO: We didn't open any offices in 2015; however, we did enter into an association with the law firm of Hassan Mahassni in Saudi Arabia. It has been a great market for our core strength areas. For example, our capital markets and non-US M&A practices in particular are predominately run out of London and Dubai. So Saudi Arabia has been a natural development in the growth of the firm The Mahassni firm similarly has clients where we are based. It's a cooperative arrangement. They remain an independent law firm with Mr. Mahassni, a very respected senior lawyer, at its helm. In the future, there is nothing further explicitly on the horizon. We hold a license in Shanghai, but we have not built out the office as of yet.

The lateral hiring we've done throughout the year reflects our strategy. One big priority for us was the addition of Andrea Reid and her team in IP/life sciences. We have also expanded our litigation and white collar crime capabilities in Washington by adding Michael Barta and Vince Cohen. In financial services, we expand our West Coast presence by adding Mark Perlow in San Francisco and Tim Spangler in Orange County in recent months.

We also expanded our international arbitration practice over recent months with the addition of lawyers in the US and Asia. Mark Mangan joined us in Singapore while Arif Ali and Alexandre de Gramont. We also recently expanded our bankruptcy & restructuring practice outside of the US with the addition in London of Paul Fleming.

CA: A lot of attention has been focused on the recent raise in salary scale in Philadelphia and Princeton. Why did you make that change?

DO: There are competitive market and cost of living considerations that could have justified a continued differential salary scale. But, we have offices in the US and in 12, we were paying a higher scale. We don't operate on an office model, but rather on a practice group model. Our associates in the two lower-paid offices were doing the same work as those in the other 12 offices. We needed to recognize that as a matter of internal equity. In the end, those considerations overcame the differences in local market conditions

CA: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?

DO: One of the things my mother told me a long time ago was that you should always try to leave things better than you find them. That's the dominant culture here. So for law students who join us the sooner they embrace that the more successful they’ll be.

Dechert LLP

Cira Centre,
2929 Arch Street,
PA 19104-2808

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

  • Main Offices: Philadelphia / New York
  • Number of domestic offices: 13
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Worldwide revenue: $890,232,713
  • Partners (US): 221
  • Associates (US): 387
  • Summer Salary 2016 
  • 1Ls: $3,100/week
  • 2Ls: $3,100/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,100/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes, case by case
  • Summers 2016: 67 2Ls 
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 66 2L offers, 53 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 and real estate; financial services and investment management; intellectual property; international arbitration; international tax and private client services; international trade and government regulation; life sciences; litigation; and pro bono.

Firm profile
Dechert is a global specialist law firm focused on sectors with the greatest complexities, legal intricacies and highest regulatory demands. With 27 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: 64
• Number of 2nd year associates: 62
• Associate salaries: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
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.