Dan Garner* Dentons has entered the New Zealand legal market today with the formal association with New Zealand’s fifth largest law firm Kensington Swan showing its continued global growth strategy as the largest law firm n th world..
But for Dentons, the move is but the latest in a string of deals that have seen them head the list of law firms globally by head count.
Dentons are the largest law firm in the world with over 17,000 staff globally and with 11,000 lawyers and global revenues of over $US2 billion.
Dentons was founded in March 2013 by the merger of SNR Denton, headquartered in Washington and London, Fraser Milner Casgrain, a leading Canadian law firm and Salans, an international firm based in Paris.
While Dentons was growing strongly the really big move cam in 2015 when the then 2,600-lawyer Dentons combined with a 4,000-lawyer Chinese law firm, Dacheng Law Offices.
Reaching its now massive size saw the firm continue to roll up smaller firms until the present day.
It also has the most offices of any law firm in the world, covering every continent and operating in almost 80 countries with 182 offices. It has recently temporarily closed its Wuhan office, where it has seven lawyers employed, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Kensington Swan has around 120 staff and is the fifth largest New Zealand law firm, which is now known as Dentons Kensington Swan and is the latest to do a Dentons tie-up, the most recent being Pittsburgh-based Cohen & Grigsby who tied-up with the firm at the end of January.
Under New Zealand legislation local law firms must be owned by lawyers registered in New Zealand and the Dentons deal with Kensington Swan does not see money changing hands, but is likely to increase revenues for the local firm who can deploy Dentons’ global reach.
A ‘Polycentric’ Law Firm
Dentons describes itself as a ‘polycentric’ law firm without a single headquarters or dominant national culture.
In Australia, where the firm has offices across the country, it has recently introduced a fixed price legal billing model, called the
The concept permits clients to access as much or as little advice as they require using Dentons’ online tool thus providing certainty in legal pricing. It also permits the firm to see what legal issues or areas of risk their lawyers are being requested to provide and to provide a picture of the legal requirements.
The intention is to roll out the ‘Virtual Counsel’ tool internationally after trialing it in Australia.
The firm rejects the ‘colonist’ approach of major firms who send lawyers to far flung areas to handle legal work and prefers to have their own, local lawyers handle it, as global CEO Elliott Portnoy said in a recent interview:
“Dentons has an entirely different approach, we do whole-firm combinations in each of those markets with the leading local law firms with deep roots in the community and outstanding talent. So, we offer very different client propositions than our competitors.”
Denton’s Polygamous ‘Issue’
Dentons undeniable success and growth has not been without some obvious growing pains. A recent awkward issue for the legal giant has been the issue of how to impose a code of conduct upon a firm of over 10,000 lawyers across 70 countries.
Specifically, what do you do about claims reported in American Lawyer that the Riyadh office in Saudi Arabia employs polygamous men who marry ‘at will’ and divorce with equal casualness.
The claims also allege that a Dentons lawyer allegedly authored an article for Cage, a controversial Islamic organization and in which the author called Americans “blood thirsty” and predicted the killing of Osama Bin Laden would lead to the destruction of America.
Dentons have said that the lawyer has denied writing the article, but UK law site RollOnFriday wrote its own account of Dentons’ investigation Feb. 7.)
Dentons issued a statement saying: “Promptly after receiving an anonymous communication containing allegations against certain personnel in our Saudi Arabia offices, we attempted to engage with the anonymous sender and initiated an investigation of the claims. Our efforts to engage with the sender of the anonymous communications have not been reciprocated. We take any allegation of violations of the law or Dentons Global Code of Conduct very seriously, and we have undertaken a thorough investigation of the claims involving both internal and external resources, which is ongoing.”
Managing a MegaFirm
Managing a firm of Dentons size is always an issue and a recent Canadian lawsuit for $25 million has also created a headache with allegations of gross overbilling, conflict of interest and other matters.
The firm vigorously denies the allegations and intends proving its position, but it does indicate the issues that can arise from growth and continued expansion.
It’s desire to build a truly national US law firm has shown its aggressive approach to growth.
As Portnoy said, “We are enormously excited about the effort and it begins with our assessment that there is no “truly national” law firm in the United States.
“Many firms hold themselves as national law firms but in reality, when you see where they meet their client needs, it is remarkable that the global law firms or even the US law firms don’t exist in all top 10 legal markets and none of them are in all 20 of the top 20 legal markets. These are very significant legal markets with outstanding clients, lawyers, and business operations.”
The firm has continued to both open new offices and to build its brand, receiving recognition for its brand awareness and multi-jurisdictional ‘reach’ as it continues on its expansion path.
And the expansion creates an issue, according to John Coffee, (left) a professor of law and director of the Center of Corporate Governance at Columbia Law School.
“You can’t run an 11,000-lawyer firm like Dentons and think you’re really practicing law — you’re running an acquisitions business,” he said.
*Dan Garner is a LawFuel legal contributor who has written on Big Law issues for several years, including on legal tech implications and mergers for law firms.
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