Mirror mirror on the wall, which Philly firm is the most global of all?
ON top of their legal talents, it seems Dechert attorneys might also be psychic. In our last edition CEO Henry Nassau predicted the firm would “surprise in how successfully we build up our biggest offices,” including New York and London. Twelve months later, the former has brought in four new corporate laterals, and the latter has taken in multiple partners in corporate, tax, litigation and finance.
We don't need a crystal ball to tell you Dechert's spread of Chambers USA rankings includes a top prize for investment funds nationwide, as well as for antitrust, litigation and tax in Pennsylvania. Firm-wide revenue is steadily nearing the $1 billion mark. Beyond its “really strong global presence” (Dechert has more offices outside the US than in it),interviewees felt the firm's chief appeal was that “people here are friends, rather than just colleagues. Everyone actually enjoys working together.”
Summer associates have the freedom to sample as many different practice areas as they'd like, before committing to one upon joining the firm as a junior. The majority of new arrivals head into the corporate & securities; finance & real estate; financial services; or trial, investigations & securities groups. Other teams – including antitrust, tax, intellectual property and international arbitration – take a handful of newbies each year.
“As a first-year you're at least in on most calls even if you're not saying much."
Each department has its own work assignment system. In corporate, a workflow coordinator distributes tasks to associates, who submit weekly availability reports and can request work from a specific area. M&A, securities, capital markets and private equity work is all up for grabs. “Everyone's so busy that we have to take a lot of responsibility,” happy associates told us. “I'm working on first and revised drafts of documents as well as research.” There's no barrier to client contact, either. “As a first-year you're at least in on most calls even if you're not saying much," an interviewee told us. "I've got to the point that I'm regularly calling and emailing clients, sometimes even a CEO! You get to know clients on a quite informal basis.”
Dechert's general commercial and white-collar litigation groups have recently fused to form one trial department, within which juniors can sample a range of sub-sections including securities, employment and contract disputes. Those we spoke to had taken full advantage, tackling “cases ranging from big corporate suits to small discrimination claims.” Document review and research are common in the early going, but juniors also get to put pen to paper (metaphorically). One reported: “On pretty much every case, I've been offered a section of the brief or motion to write. Partners and senior associates definitely value my input and take my suggestions seriously.”
“On pretty much every case, I've been offered a section of the brief or motion to write.”
Litigators and finance & real estate associates can get tasks both from a workflow coordinator and directly from partners. The finance & real estate team handles both loan origination and securitization, which often involves collateralized loan obligations. “When you first start you're in charge of running checklists and the due diligence,” sources said. “Then you begin to take on a more active role: talking on the phone to clients and drafting ancillary documents and comments.” Across practice groups juniors have a sizable workload. One told us: “It's been a very busy year – it's stressful but fun because the work is so interesting.”
Financial services associates are each staffed on a number of client teams. Many of these are dedicated to the firm's asset management clients like ECN Capital, CION Investments and CIFC. “We represent mutual funds and independent trustees," a junior informed us. "There's also a good deal of broker/dealer work and international matters.” Juniors spend their days reviewing client documents, researching discrete points and assisting with board materials; some get the chance to draft short memos. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the office the greater the early responsibility. In larger bases like Philadelphia and New York, smaller matters provide some opportunity for rookies to push themselves more than usual.
Several associates we spoke to said they'd worked with colleagues abroad, for example in the Middle East. "I've worked with London, Hong Kong, Beijing and Dubai,” one interviewee reported. We also heard of associates “representing Chinese and French nationals and US nationals abroad."
Offices & Culture
Either Philly or the Big Apple could be considered Dechert's beating heart – both offices house the firm's art collection, collected by “a former chairman who was very devoted to bringing in cool pieces. It's easy to take for granted, but the collection is incredible.” Other locations may not boast any avant-garde masterpieces, but share the same modern, white-and-glass aesthetic. Dechert DC already occupies the top two floors of its K Street building and is taking over a third, while the Boston base is “in the heart of the financial district, on the 41st floor of a high rise. I got my own window office from the start.” Healthy inter-office collaboration is “one of Dechert's big selling points. The firm is very good at letting you travel, and when you do every office feels the same.”
Insiders suggest Dechert “definitely strives for a one-firm feel,” but were torn about how successful this policy has been. A New Yorker reported that “having spent some time in Philly I'd say it's a little stiffer there, perhaps because Dechert is one of the very top firms in the market. It wasn't anything negative, just a different vibe.” Over in DC, the atmosphere is “more casual, people have quite quirky personalities.” Some suggested “the culture is very practice-group based: all have their own flavor and way of doing things.” The common denominator we picked up firm-wide is that “people work hard, there's a good team environment and people form close relationships.” Such friendships can even cross the partner-associate divide, which most juniors felt wasn't too broad to bridge: “Partners are very conscious about making everyone feel part of one team.”
“Everyone in the office goes for a chat – hopefully not about work.”
After-work socializing is commonplace throughout the firm, particularly in the larger bases. New York hosts Thursday evening dinner and drinks, and “it's always a lot of fun as everyone in the office goes for a chat – hopefully not about work.” Up the coast in Boston, the office recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with an office party, while the DC office “always tries to put on associate-only events so we can get to know each other.” There are also gatherings for everybody across the network including Christmas festivities, Halloween costume contests and ugly sweater parties. This stacked events calendar suggests that Dechert's attorneys are pretty tight-knit.
Training & Development
If this touchy-feely warmth isn't enough, the firm encourages seniors to look after newbies with cold, hard cash: via the Exceptional Teachers Reward mentors can win $10,000. The monthly Critical Skills Institute associate program is designed to develop communication, leadership, client relation and management skills, and there's practice group-specific training on top of that. “The firm does a great job with training and it seems very important to them,” associates said, “though there's only so much you can learn in theory before actually doing it.”
Formal reviews take place twice a year: associates fill out forms that highlight what matters they've worked on for more than 15 hours, and who with. The midyear is “very informal” and largely oral, but the year-end evaluation is “a much more involved process with more detail. It's extensive and very helpful.” Aside from a few grumblers, associates were also largely happy with the real-time feedback they received. One reported: “Everyone I've worked with is very good at talking things through with you. Normally by the time you go into evaluations you have an idea of what will be said.”
All attorneys are required to devote at least 25 hours a year to pro bono, and juniors can count up to 200 hours toward their billing target. After that permission is required to count more, but one interviewee told us: “I don't know of any requests ever getting turned down. I've gone well over 200 hours after taking some big cases.” Far from being discouraged from taking too much, associates reported that “pro bono is one of the big missions of the firm. Clients like the fact that we do so much.” On top of the pride that comes with using your legal powers for good, going past 50 hours wins you a small recognition award. The firm's pro bono managers send out weekly emails with opportunities, and interviewees said they'd taken on “domestic violence cases, immigration matters and landlord/tenant disputes.” Corporate associates often struggle to match litigators in the pro bono stakes, but our corporate sources at Dechert had access to plenty of transactional pro bono.
“I've gone well over 200 hours.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 63,390
- Average per US attorney: 104.1
Hours & Compensation
Reaching the yearly billing target of 1,950 hours makes associates bonus eligible, with a higher bonus on offer for those who bill more. Our interviewees considered the target “very achievable – most people don't have trouble hitting it.” Some did add that “as a first-year it's a little bit more difficult because you start slowly.”
"When I do take vacation there's a tremendous effort to allow me to really have time off.”
Associates said they typically wrap up their working day “some time between 7pm and 9pm,” getting in at 9:30am in New York and earlier elsewhere. A New Yorker told us what their hours get like at the extreme: "I've definitely had nights when I've been here till 1am or 4am. And there's been at least one night when I didn't go home, but that was abnormal and happened because of a very tight deadline." However, juniors said they “definitely” have “time for a private life, but it can be difficult to schedule things as you never know when an emergency will come up.”
Associates can take up to 20 vacation days a year. One source confided: “I went away for a weekend at one point, and something major came up so I ended up spending most of it working.” Another told us, contrastingly: “When I do take vacation there's a tremendous effort to allow me to really have time off.”
Dechert historically isn't the strongest performer on the diversity front – only 16% of partners are female, for example – and associates agreed: “We could definitely do better, and the firm is making a concerted effort to improve.” The latest promotions to partner have been around the 50% mark. In some offices, attorneys are taking things into their own hands, with ethnically diverse associates “getting together for monthly lunches and inviting people across the firm to share their experiences. The firm has been very receptive to the initiative and encouraged it.” Dechert has an array of official affinity groups that include Asian, Black, Latino and LGBT associations, and most visibly the Global Women's Initiative. The firm also hosts a yearly diversity summit in New York, and recently appointed Satra Sampson-Arokium as new director of diversity and inclusion. “I'd give Dechert middling grades for achievement, but high marks for trying,” one source concluded.
Strategy & Future
An associate told us that the firm "tries to give the impression of transparency" regarding its future plans and strategy, with "quarterly meetings with the CEO on our financials." The firm promotes itself as a 'global specialist' on its website. We wondered what this meant. "We specialize in particular practice areas," CEO Henry Nassau informed us: "Real estate securitization, M&A, funds work, white-collar investigations, international arbitration, IP and commercial litigation." As for future strategy, Nassau tells us a recent spate of lateral hires is "absolutely" indicative of what's to come. "In 2017 we've hired six lateral partners and seven lateral associates in New York, and five partners and 12 associates in London. The greatest opportunities for potential future growth are in New York, London and Washington, DC, but our other smaller offices with specialized practice areas remain quite strong too."
Interview with CEO Henry Nassau
Chambers Associate: What have been the highlights of the past year at Dechert?
Henry Nassau: When we spoke in late 2016 we were in the midst of developing our strategic plan for the next 5 years and we've now begun to implement our updated strategy. Its key themes involve partners embracing a stewardship model and building deeper relationships with clients. We're focusing on attracting larger clients and paying attention to new technologies and increasing competition from in-house legal departments and global alternative providers.
Attracting and developing our talent is of course another key component of our strategic plan. In addition to formal training, this involves giving associates opportunities to engage deeply and collaborate with clients, and making sure they're involved in client development discussions along the way. The firm is committed to diversity and inclusion and we’re proud that half of our promoted partners this past year were women. It looks like we're going to have a strong year financially, with a couple of our larger practice groups having had a very busy year. I’ve found associates are happier when they're busy and developing their substantive skills.
CA: Last year you predicted strong growth in the New York and London offices, and they've taken on laterals recently – is that indicative of your future growth strategy?
HN: Absolutely. In 2017 we've hired six lateral partners and seven lateral associates in New York, and five partners and twelve associates in London. The greatest opportunities for potential future growth are in New York, London and Washington, DC, but our other smaller offices with specialized practice areas remain quite strong too – Philadelphia for mid-market private equity, Chicago for litigation, San Francisco for securitization. But yes, New York and London in particular are looking very encouraging.
CA: The firm defines itself as a 'global specialist' – what does that mean in practice?
HN: We specialize in particular practice areas such as real estate securitization, M&A, funds work, white-collar investigations, international arbitration, IP and commercial litigation. We're not a firm bringing all things to all people, which I believe makes sense in this era of growing demand for specialization. We have specialized practices and maintain a global footprint, which in areas like internal corporate investigations is something clients really value. In other areas, there is more of a geographic singularity. For example, private equity deals are typically done within one market, but the process behind them follows the same pattern across the globe and the concepts are similar. We've found clients come to us specifically because of our specialization, and the value of the service we provide is worth more than the bill we're sending.
CA: Are there any practice areas the firm works within that you feel don't get enough attention?
HN: Since we've become a global firm, that's been less of an issue. The areas that get less attention tend to be the ones we can't publicize our work in by definition, including white-collar defense, corporate investigations and international arbitration. The areas are a significant chunk of our practice, but we can't necessarily put out a press release about our successes.
CA: Last year we also spoke about the growth of technology in the law, and the firm's office connections as a result of that – how collaborative do offices tend to be on matters?
HN: To give you an example, we recently worked on an M&A transaction involving 20 different offices. Technology such as videoconferencing helps, but we've always had a history of cross-office collaboration. At Dechert, we pride ourselves on being more focused on practice groups rather than office location. In some practice areas, nobody knows where associates will be working out of – you could be working on a New York merger out of DC. There's also a healthy amount of cross-border collaboration, but all our practice groups work together across offices very efficiently.
CA: How do you ensure Dechert's culture is consistent across all its offices?
HN: I sleep on a lot of airplanes! In all seriousness, culture and strategy are yin and yang – you can't have a good strategy without a good culture. We put out the message that our lawyers are supposed to collaborate and be team-players; and the job of firm leadership at all levels is to make sure they want to embody that culture of collaboration. Another important piece of our culture of collaboration is that we value everyone’s contributions and embrace diverse ideas that help us serve our clients to the best of our ability. I always remind our attorneys that they should treat their colleagues at the firm like their most important client.
CA: What are the biggest challenges facing lawyers in 2018?
HN: In terms of what I'm personally worried about, it would be an economic slowdown, given that we've had ten years without a recession. All BigLaw firms are tied to the global economy to some extent and it's hard to escape the laws of gravity. My biggest concern is the effects of the populist political whirlpools that have formed on the economy. Ironically neither Brexit nor the Trump presidency seem to have affected economic growth in their respective locations so far. I'd also point to the fact that the costs of maintaining a BigLaw firm have grown very high, and clients are becoming more sophisticated about what they expect from firms, so we need to continue to innovate and adapt.
CA: What's the secret to enjoying a career in law?
HN: Endless curiosity. If you don't find the intellectual stimulation rewarding, you can be a good person and great lawyer but you will not succeed long term in this career. You have to love the challenge of working with smart people, and one of the nice things about global firms like Dechert is that associates get to wake up every day and live the headlines in the newspaper, be that the financial industry in London, a white-collar investigation in DC or Asia or something else.
CA: Is there anything else our readers should know about the firm?
HN: We are excited about continuing to implement our strategic plan in 2018. We've worked very hard to reinforce the message that we work to a high-performance culture. New York and London in particular are developing very well, and we started 2018 with a much better pipeline and a lot more work than at the beginning of 2017. Unless there's a seismic shock across the industry we're going to have a very good year in 2018.
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. We also want those who have achieved academically.
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 launch pads for other discussion points. Interviews with fewer experiences typically start with more traditional questions, then get into topics with a different direction. For the interviewee, I'd hope each interview 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 OCI period. We've been pleased with our success at recruiting diverse students. Our numbers have been solid in terms of summers, 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. We put summers in the same position as first-years. Moreover, the personality of the lawyers here and the culture of the firm are 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 which are a nice balance between work and entertainment and allow summers to get to know the city and their 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 things 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.
Our sources at Dechert suggested candidates are evaluated chiefly from a skills perspective, focusing on “critical thinking, leadership abilities, charisma and being confident in conveying what you want.” Work ethic is a massive part of this: “you have to be someone willing to put in the hours to produce good work, but even more than that Dechert focuses a lot on community so it's important you can demonstrate a commitment to that.” As with all firms, cultural fit is also taken into consideration. “We're looking for personalities willing to show interest in the work we do, with genuine interest in a practice area or being here long term.”
Contributing to a journal is an “obvious” extracurricular at law school and most sources mentioned it, but one suggested: “I thought it was the most important thing coming in and now it doesn't seem as crucial as I thought.” In order to stand out from the crowd, associates suggested mock trial programs and experiences that can demonstrate your interest in a particular practice group – in antitrust, for example, attorneys work a lot with data and prior economics experience can go a long way. Interviewees agreed that Dechert “does a really good job selecting people who are distinctive and see the world in different ways. It values self-starters.”
Sources thus suggested applicants “focus on what makes you stand out and what you'd add to the firm's culture.” Ahead of time it's also worth “doing more research about the culture in specific offices, because cultural fit is so important.” Any big no-no's? “If you have litigation aspirations, for instance, but tell us you want to go into another department just to get a callback, nobody will be happy,” one source told us.
Notable summer events: Concerts, Segway tour, sailing, theatre events, Escape Room, dinners in Partners’ homes.
More on Dechert's overseas offices
The firm's first office outside the US was established in 1968 in Brussels, poised to take advantage of its proximity to the apparatus 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 British firm called 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 last of these is now one of the five largest bases in the network, and has earned an array of Chambers Europe rankings including a top commendation for life sciences.
In 2007 Dechert opened its doors in Hong Kong – a year later this East Asian office 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-Pacific 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).
Perhaps a more volatile area, the Middle East has had a tricky relationship with international law firms – some have struggled to maintain a presence here. 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 extends to Riyadh and Jeddah.
2929 Arch Street,
1095 Avenue of the Americas,
- Main Offices: Philadelphia / New York
- Number of domestic offices: 13
- Number of international offices: 14
- Worldwide revenue: $978,000,000
- Partners (US): 209
- Associates (US): 371
- Main recruitment contacts: Alison Bernard, Chief Talent Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: James A Lebovitz, Firmwide Hiring Chair
- Diversity officers: Hector Gonzalez, Deputy Chair for Diversity; Satra Sampson-Arokium, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 48
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls 6, 2Ls 37
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Boston: 5, Charlotte: 3, Hartford: 1, New York: 13, Philadelphia: 12, Silicon Valley: 1, Washington DC: 8
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,461.54/week 2Ls: $3,461.54/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes, case by case
Main areas of work
American, Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Hofstra, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn State, Stanford, Temple, University of Connecticut, UNC, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, UCLA, USC, UVA, Vanderbilt, Villanova.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Dechert delivers distinctive and exciting opportunities, provides extensive training and mentorship, and offers its lawyers the experiences needed to become experts in their field. We welcome applications from experienced lawyers seeking sophisticated work and a collegial environment.
Summer associate profile:
In addition to a strong academic background, we seek candidates with excellent 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 be a lawyer 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.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Real Estate (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Hedge & Mutual Funds (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
- Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 3)
- International Arbitration (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 5)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance Recognised Practitioner