Dechert trainees enjoy “the benefits of the huge US network” and a six-seat system at this Philadelphia-founded firm.
Dazzlingly Dechert. Delightfully Dechert. Devilishly Dechert. Daringly Dechert. This American firm had many alliterative possibilities for its slogan, but what ultimately made the cut was ‘Distinctively Dechert.’ Before we unpack exactly what Dechert means as an adjective, let’s make sure you’re saying it right – that’s ‘Deck-urt’ with a hard ‘k,’ emphasis on the first syllable.
While the snappy slogan subscribes to the ‘less is more’ mantra, current trainees were pleased to hear that the firm’s seat system does not. The chance to sample six seats rather than the more typical four enticed pretty much all the trainees we spoke to: "It really makes a difference to someone who’s not completely decided how they want their career to proceed. Now I’m here, I’m really, really, really glad I picked Dechert. Six seats still don’t feel like enough!" Training principal Jonathan Angell tells us that, because of this, “people who do well at Dechert are people who throw themselves into things.” Unlike the more traditional system of four six-month seats, Angell emphasises that at Dechert “you don’t have the luxury of spending a month or two of warming up and settling into your seat because if you do that you’re halfway through.” So the firm is looking for “people who hit the ground running, who are going to get involved in things and make the most of every opportunity.”
“Six seats still don’t feel like enough!"
Dechert’s London office, located a two-minute walk from Blackfriars station, is just one cog in a 27-office empire worldwide, meaning lawyers here can enjoy “the benefits of the huge US network,” says Angell. About 140 qualified lawyers work out of the London office, and Angell tells us “the objective is to get to about 200 qualified lawyers by 2020/2021, so that means growth across all practice areas.” Areas of particular focus have been private equity and finance, with a spate of new partner hires in both areas over the last 18 months. The emphasis may be on growth in numbers, but interviewees were attracted to current class sizes – about ten in each class. "I steered well clear of magic circle firms because I just didn’t want to be one of a hundred." In the current intake they observed "a few international students, people straight out of university, people taking career changes. Other than academics, we really don't have much in common." They felt this was “indicative of Dechert’s push to recruit from different walks of life.” Angell explains the interview process is indeed partly blind, “to try and reduce so far as possible the risk of unconscious bias.” The firm also works with Aspiring Solicitors, which was founded by a former Dechert trainee and seeks to diversify the legal sector.
When it came to choosing seats, all trainees were clear that second years get greater dibs. For trainees at the very beginning of the contract, "you only get to choose if you want to do contentious or transactional for your first seat and are allocated by business need. But from your second seat on, you get to express your top three preferences every time there’s a rotation. Graduate recruitment do work extremely hard to accommodate people's choices." And if trainees really like a seat there is the option to repeat, meaning "you ultimately end up with eight months' worth experience in that group, which is more than people at other firms."
Of the 11 seat options for Dechert trainees, the biggest group by far is financial services. "Because of the sheer numbers that work in this seat, trainees might do a bit of hedge funds, private equity, and regulation. The projects you work on range from fund formation, to fund structuring and reorganisation, to research on regulatory aspects of asset management and advising on those.” In that vein, the group recently provided guidance in an industry-wide push to find a cross-border solution to the use of research in the asset management industry. Sources said: "The international nature of the work makes it difficult for trainees collecting signatures because you have to keep in mind different hours. You need plenty of clocks on your desk!" The financial services group also recently advised investment product provider Investcorp on its £222 million acquisition of a debt management business, and advised asset manager Ares Management on aspects of its £103 million acquisition of a holiday park operator. “Sometimes as a trainee you help in setting up companies. You're involved in the structure of the fund, and that’s basically your own project." While the responsibility can build up to that, we got the impression that "in the beginning it's slower. They give you easier tasks, maybe collating documents, and with time if you prove yourself, they give you more responsibility."
“They’re all quite meaty deals; most of the work is in the billions.”
After financial services, trainees said corporate is one of Dechert’s busiest seats. The group has “a rough division between capital markets, private equity, M&A, and then there’s a life sciences practice.” The group’s Chambers UK credentials include top-tier ranking in corporate/M&A: mid-market and hedge funds. Recent work includes advising packaging company Crown Holdings on its $3.91 billion acquisition of a packaging provider, and advising oil and gas company Chrysaor on its $3.8 billion acquisition by Shell. In the capital markets arm, “the group does a lot of emerging markets work. They’re all quite meaty deals; most of the work is in the billions.” The firm recently advised the Kingdom of Bahrain on the issuance of its bonds totalling $3 billion. Other clients include the Lebanese Republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. On the private equity side, we heard from trainees who’d enjoyed travelling around Europe to finalise deals. The firm recently advised brokers on a £155 million fundraising for AudioBoom, and it also advised Investec Bank on the £30 million of placing and offer of shares.
In the “umbrella” litigation seat, trainees described a crossover between civil and criminal work, and exposure to a range of matters “from insurance disputes to contractual disputes over payment of money.” Dechert recently advised specialist chemical company FMC Corporation on the protection of its confidential information. Other recent work includes advising Countrywide Surveyors on a £3 million aggregation dispute with its insurers relating to a claim for indemnity. On the criminal side, "I had one big case that had ten different defendants based all around the world, so that raised a couple of interesting research questions from the beginning."
“You’d be interested [...] even if you didn’t do law.”
Trainees in litigation also described a degree of crossover with white-collar, which is a separate group (it may be worth knowing that internally, the group goes by the name 'trial investigations and securities'). A seat here was one of the most highly sought after among this crop of trainees. One such enthusiast revealed that "quite a few people want to qualify into white-collar, and rightly so!"Chambers UK bestows a top ranking on the firm for financial crime: corporates at the London level. Trainees outlined a three-pronged set of clients – “we advise individuals, international companies, and countries” – and described areas of work “you’d be interested in even if you didn’t do law. Things like bribery, fraud, money-laundering, market manipulation, insider dealing...” All these juicy matters meant that even document review became exciting: “It was fascinating for me as a trainee. You go through hundreds and thousands of emails and documents to back up the case with evidence. You have to stay alert and have attention to detail, even if you’re on email number 6,000 for the day, because suddenly you come across relevant information, and sometimes the piece of email you find is crucial to resolve the case. So that gives you a kind of adrenaline rush.”
The firm has seat options in financial restructuring, real estate, employment, IP, and there are also a handful of secondment opportunities available in Singapore, Brussels, Toulouse, and the hottest new location (maybe not in climate) is Dublin. Those going abroad are told a little further in advance than normal rotations: “I got a 20-page guide to the city with everything you could possibly want to know about the office, and what you can do for weekend trips – it was so comprehensive it would rival TripAdvisor!”
Dech your privilege
Trainees remembered how relieved they were to find out Dechert wasn’t the big, bad firm they had in mind: “I was nervous when I started about the hours at an American firm, but they take a sensible view of it. If there isn’t something you need to be doing, it can wait.” This applied to culture as well: “It takes a while to settle in,” trainees admitted, “but everybody is so normal and helpful – people make the effort to explain things to you. Of course it’s not always possible to get ten minutes from a senior to get an overview as to how your task fits in, but they will always come back to you later. It’s almost expected you’ll make mistakes.”
Unsurprisingly, as an American firm, Dechert is more expansive across the pond with 13 offices, so an American touch does exist in some of the work: “The corporate team does quite a bit of work that originates out of the US, and a lot of the financial services work comes through the New York or DC office.” In London, the Dechert cohort office marks American occasions such as Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. And for the NQs there’s a chance to visit the firm’s Philadelphia headquarters at a firmwide orientation, which got a big thumbs-up from the NQs we spoke to. According to trainees: “There are a lot of Americans wandering around,” but they’re probably just visiting the office – only about ten of the 140 qualified lawyers at Dechert London are from the US. Jonathan Angell also points to Dechert London’s legacy firm as an influencer of the overall firm culture: “The fact that there was an underlying English law firm makes a real difference to the culture and the feel of the place.”
“The fact that there was an underlying English law firm makes a real difference to the culture and the feel of the place.”
Trainees found a supportive atmosphere: “I was speaking to one of the managing partners the other day, spitballing ideas for different diversity events, and they said, ‘If you have a great idea we will always be happy to run with it.’ That positivity and encouragement from our management committee speaks volumes.” The office’s diversity committee is in its inaugural year and has so far organised visits to the Illuminating India exhibition at the Science Museum, and is hoping to have a karaoke evening as “our flagship event so everyone can come and make a fool of themselves in equal measure.” A women’s committee chaired by Miriam Gonzalez also meets formally every month to discuss activities: “We have associates, partners and trainees, women represented at every level.” The group recently “held an event to welcome three new female partners, to celebrate the fact we have three fantastic female partners in London.”
Trainees can also get involved with networking society Dechert Uncorked. This group sets up events like wine-tasting and bowling for trainees to “invite friends from relevant industries – bankers, accountants, people in PR. The idea is that one day when we are all high-flying partners we’ll have some clients ready-made.” Other items on the extracurricular menu for trainees include a sailing club which came about thanks to a sailing tournament Dechert participates in: “The firm has sponsored the team to do a skipper’s course because a lot of us are keen sailors, so every Tuesday now for the next six months we will be in a meeting room doing our skipper theory together.”
Pro bono is part of the package at Dechert. Trainees are asked to meet a 25-hour minimum of pro bono work, but are encouraged to do 50. Sources told us “there are some amazing projects. I worked with an NGO called Human Dignity Trust, looking into sexual offences in Commonwealth countries. We produced a report on each country.” Trainees are also expected to do a minimum of three advice clinics. The firm has partnerships with the Islington Law Centre and the Prince’s Trust. In 2018 six out of ten qualifiers were retained by the firm.
Trainees can spend one rotation at the Royal Courts of Justice, where they sit with commercial judges in the Chancery Division. “You’re essentially a judicial assistant – it’s very cool!”
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How to get a Dechert training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines (2019): 31 December 2018 (spring); 31 January 2019 (summer)
Apply for 2021 training contracts via the firm's 2019 vac schemes
Applications and assessments
In 2017 and 2018 all training contract offers were made to those who had undertaken a vacation scheme or work experience with the firm. Dechert hopes to repeat this approach in 2019 and aims to recruit all of its 2021 trainees exclusively through its vacation schemes. The firm generally receives around 600 applications for its spring and summer vac schemes, which take ten candidates each. A source tells us that the vac scheme “acts as a two-week training contract interview.” There are usually ten training contracts on offer in total.
Following an initial application short-listing stage, successful candidates are invited to undertake a video interview. Once through that stage, candidates are invited to attend an assessment day at the firm’s office. This includes a group exercise which is judged by a panel of partners and senior associates, a written assessment and lunch with some of the firm’s current trainees. Those who are successful are then asked into the office for a face-to-face interview with a member of the grad recruitment team and the grad recruitment partner.
At this stage, the firm now operates a 'blind interviewing' system, which means that interviewers have no information on the candidate before they see them, ensuring that everyone is in the same position. Rather than focusing on candidates’ CVs, there is more of a focus on commercial scenarios and the strategy the candidate employed when applying for the role. Candidates are evaluated on style, presentation and the judgement they demonstrate. “Here we're looking for candidates to present their answers in a logical, structured way,” says grad recruitment. “They don't necessarily have to get the answer right, in fact there isn't a right answer; it's more about how candidates reason an argument and analyse the scenario. Like a maths exam, usually a lot of the marks you get are for your working out. It's more about how you arrived at your answer than the answer itself.”
Following the interview, candidates are given a trainee-led tour around the office. “Trainees often take the interviewees to have a coffee and share their experiences at the firm,” a source tells us. Candidates are rarely brought back for follow-up interviews, but if successful they are given an opportunity to return to talk through any remaining questions or concerns they might have.
Vac schemers visit two departments during their placement and can state up to four seat preferences beforehand. Alongside live pieces of work there are skills workshops, and training and practice area sessions. Attendees also participate in a group project over the course of their placement. “Take that seriously,” trainees advised. “It’s a crucial part of the decision-making process at the end.” Various networking lunches, sporting events, and evening drinks keep things ticking over on the social front. “There are a lot of socials!” said trainees. “As well as having fun, my tip would be to use them as an opportunity to get an insight into what people are like at the firm rather than just going for drinks and food.”
Interview with international trade lawyer Miriam Gonzalez
160 Queen Victoria Street,
- Partners 43*
- Associates 91*
- Total trainees 20*
- * denotes London figure
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 26
- Contact [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 650
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 (or capable of attaining a 2:1)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Spring vacation scheme runs: 1-12 April 2019
- Spring vacation scheme deadline: 31 December 2018
- Summer vacation scheme runs: 24 June - 5 July 2019
- Summer vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £110,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Brussels, Dublin and Singapore
Main areas of work
Our six seat training contract provides flexibility, depth and variety. No two trainees have the same experience. We help tailor your training contract — whether you’re enjoying a seat and want to get to know that practice group better, and so want to repeat it, or whether you want to get the broadest experience possible across a range of practice areas. There are also opportunities for secondments to other Dechert offices overseas. We take your training seriously, both before and after you qualify. Our full, and lively, training programme covers the whole range of skills you need, from technical legal issues to substantive skills training in each practice group to what we call the ‘Critical Skills Institute’, which is focused on leadership, management, communication and client relations.
If you would like to apply for a place on one of our vacation schemes in 2019, please visit our website for further details. An application for a place on one of Dechert’s vacation schemes is also an application for a training contract commencing in September 2021.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 5)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 3)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 6)
- Real Estate: Lower Mid-Market (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 5)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
- Partnership (Band 3)