Joe Andrew, Global chair of Dentons, outlined the firm’s strategy in a recent video. It has two prongs: (1) Dentons maintains its status as the world’s largest law firm; while it simultaneously (2) becomes the world’s biggest independent law firm network. How can this be?
Dentons does everything in an outsized way. And while the steady stream of news it creates often involves an acquisition, this time it’s a lawsuit. The firm and two of its partners are Defendants in a recently filed legal malpractice action. (RevoLaze LLP vs. Dentons US LLP et al., case number CV 16861410, in the Court of Common Pleas, Cuyahoga County, Ohio). It’s a case that is being watched closely in the legal industry because its outcome could have far-reaching ramifications for the Swiss verein structure that has helped fuel the expansion of Dentons and other mega firms including DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells.
Ever watch card players shuffle the deck? The purpose, of course, is to rearrange the cards for a new game. It’s a “reboot.” And it’s entertaining.
Is that what we are seeing with legal delivery: a reshuffling of the deck?
For decades, the game has been played without a remix. Law firms have dealt the same hand. No reshuffle. And their corporate clients rarely groused the deck was stacked. The outcome was entirely predictable: law firm wins. Rinse and repeat.
But the game has changed, especially since 2008. The deck is being reshuffled. Here’s how.
It’s that time of year again when gifts are exchanged and returned; resolutions are made and quickly breached; and hopes for the future abound- so long as one stays away from the news and social media.
So, in the spirit of the season- and recognizing what follows is as likely as Dentons foregoing future acquisitions- here is a holiday wish list for the legal vertical.
Dentons is the Donald Trump of the legal vertical. The firm is brash, bigger-than-life, and something entirely different. It receives a disproportionate amount of press because it is always doing something that drops jaws.
Around The World in 80 Days (Almost)
Dentons has had a very busy year expanding across the globe. One new region it targeted was Latin America. The firm retained former Inter-American Development Bank General Counsel Jorge Alers last year as its regional CEO. Mr. Alers was tasked to help identify and vet firms in the Mexico, Central and South America and Caribbean region.
About two weeks ago, it was reported that Dentons was about to welcome two Latin American firms into the fold. They are Colombia’s Cardenas & Cardenas and Mexico’s Lopez Velarde Heftye y Soria (LVHS). Bienvenidos! This will add another 90 lawyers to the existing roster of 7,000 Dentons lawyers. More significantly, the deals mark Dentons’ entry into a new and growing segment of the global legal market. And they burnish the firms’ global brand.
It has been almost forty years since the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of lawyers to advertise. The Bates Court could have scarcely imagined that legal advertising — in the guise of websites, blogs, and a legion of other forms of communication spawned by the Internet — would afford lawyers a global advertising platform. And let’s not forget personal injury lawyers who, as is known by the insomniacs among us, sponsor those late night shows that are hard to remember the next morning and even more difficult to admit to having watched. Legal advertising has a multiplicity of shapes and is a staple from solo practitioners in storefronts to the largest global law firms. And sometimes the content of lawyer advertising — how the firm represents itself to the public — can have significant consequences.
Dentons and The Swiss Verein Structure
Dentons has been in the news a great deal lately. The press usually focuses on its latest acquisition in a relentless expansion across the globe. In the span of a few years, Dentons — now the world’s largest law firm in headcount and number of countries with offices — has channeled the BigFour’s global strategy and has pulled off the legal equivalent of a rollup. It has done so with staggering speed, geographic breadth, and sheer number of deals. Just recently, Dentons announced that it has 21 additional NDA’s in place with new target firms across the globe. How has Dentons pulled this off? Two key elements are its Swiss verein structure and global-minded leadership.
The Swiss verein enables member firms operating under the Dentons brand to maintain their own finances while tapping into the global brand’s robust sales and marketing machine and technology. The structure also facilitates the firm’s rapid entry into new markets, helping it to circumnavigate potential regulatory roadblocks without seemingly breaking stride.
But there are also downsides to the Swiss verein — not just for Dentons but also for the other half-dozen behemoth firms that share the structure. For example, profits cannot be shared between constituent partnerships, a constraint that removes incentives for lawyers in member firms to share clients and work with attorneys in other member participants operating under the global brand. Most law firms operating as vereins combat this challenge by sharing costs in return for work referrals, which allows for the indirect sharing of profit.
The economic autonomy of members also militates against the global brand operating as an integrated firm which is how Dentons and other vereins advertise themselves and which is a big selling point in their efforts to secure client work across the globe as well as vie for lucrative cross-border matters. Inherent in the autonomy of the individual member firms is a resistance to yield to conflicts with other member firms, because there is no financial incentive to do so. While this tension certainly exists at large law firms with a unified P&L, it is far more acute in the verein context where, from an economic perspective, “it’s every member for itself.” [Read more…]