In 2013 the SNR Denton, Fraser Milner Casgrain, and Salans law firms merged into one entity: Dentons. The firm capitalized on its momentum by merging two years later with China’s Dacheng law firm, making it the largest law firm in the world. On the occasion of the firm’s 5th anniversary, CEE Legal Matters reached out to Dentons Partner and Europe Chief Executive Officer Tomasz Dabrowski in Poland and Dentons Partner and Global Vice Chair Evan Lazar in Prague to ask about the first five years and to see what’s next in Denton’s strategy for Europe and CEE.
CEELM: In the five years since Dentons’ creation the firm has expanded rapidly around the world. Can you give our readers a sense of Dentons’ current footprint and status?
Evan: Since our formation five years ago, Dentons has become the fasting-growing law firm and the world’s largest. We now have more than 9000 lawyers working in 170 locations in 75 countries around the globe. We have more than doubled our revenue globally. And we continue to grow. Recent global additions include offices in Scotland, Africa, South East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Tomasz: In Europe, our goal is to be a top global law firm in the continent. To do that, we are investing in the largest economies in Western Europe, which are priority markets for many of our clients. Over the last couple of years, we have opened new offices in Milan, Luxembourg, Rome, Munich, and Amsterdam, and we recently announced our plans to open in Dusseldorf in the new year. We have also invested heavily in strengthening our talent in key locations – most notably in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Paris.
We are also maintaining our market-leading position in CEE-CIS by investing in strategic capabilities. We have invested in Central Asia and the Caucasus - opening an office in Georgia with a top tier team, and completing a merger in Uzbekistan.
Evan: This has been a transformative time for us, but we are not finished. In the next few years, we are looking to grow in other important markets such as the Nordics, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal. Stay tuned!
CEELM: What’s the driving force behind that growth? Is there a specific and stated strategy for expansion?
Evan: Our growth is strategic and is very much driven by the needs of our clients. In today’s global economy, clients are looking for a law firm that can advise them – in a seamless and integrated way – in all of the markets where they do business. For example, from the real estate perspective, we are seeing more and more portfolio deals where clients are looking for our help in acquiring or disposing assets across several countries. We are also seeing more and more clients do global panel reviews to cut down their number of legal advisers from, for example, 30-40 law firms to four or five. In this context, our ability to offer full service legal advice around the world is a significant differentiator and competitive advantage.
Tomasz: Our global strategy is based on three pillars: growth, integration, and reinvention. The growth pillar is obvious. We want to be the first law firm with truly global reach, to be present and able to serve clients in all important locations. We’ve advanced this strategy significantly and today we can offer our clients coverage of more markets than any other law firm.
Integration is about making sure that we stay connected, and that we collaborate across borders and practices in order to offer clients the full creative power of our 9000 lawyers around the world.
And of course, reinvention is about innovating and challenging the status quo. We want to reinvent the way in which law firms operate and add value to people and clients. In addition to transformative businesses like Nextlaw Labs, Nextlaw Referral Network, and Nextlaw In-House Solutions, we are innovating our client offering and our internal processes and programs. For example, our award-winning EMEA Senior Development Program uses principles of neuroscience to help our future partners develop the skills they’ll need as leaders. Another great example is the opening of our shared service center in Warsaw to provide quality and innovative business support services to our offices across EMEA much more efficiently.
CEELM: What about in CEE? The firm hasn’t added any offices in the region since its creation, but has it grown in other ways? Will it expand its regional footprint anytime soon?
Evan: Dentons has a history in CEE-CIS going back more than 25 years. When the Wall came down, our legacy firm Salans saw massive potential opportunity in going east, and was among the first international firms to enter those markets. Because of this pioneering approach, we now have a very strong position in the key markets in the region and very experienced teams on the ground.
Tomasz: Today, our goal for CEE-CIS is very clear: to be a top international law firm in each of our priority markets. While we haven’t opened any new offices in CEE since becoming Dentons, we have invested in talent – both in terms of bringing in strategic lateral hires and in terms of developing our own people. Our partnership in CEE has grown by more than 50% since we became Dentons.
A great example was our investment in Budapest in 2015, when we transformed our practice with the recruitment of a market-leading team of 30 professionals. Our Prague and Istanbul teams have also grown dramatically and improved their market recognition and we have retained our solid number one position in Warsaw.
CEELM: Tomasz, as you’re Europe CEO at Dentons, perhaps you can explain what it is about Dentons’ structure and business model that allows the firm to thrive in markets where some of the other largest international firms have not. In CEE, for instance, Dentons has maintained its footprint while those of international firms like White & Case, Gide Loyrette Nouel, Hogan Lovells, and Clifford Chance have shrunk. How have you managed that?
Tomasz: I believe our success in CEE – and indeed in markets around the world – is due in a large part to our polycentric model and, as we call it, our “in and of the community” approach. We don’t have a headquarters or a dominating office in any specific location, which imposes its perspective and strategy on others. Our strategy is to be truly global and the only way to achieve that is to be fully committed to absolutely every market where we have an office. We are in it for the long haul and through the ups and downs of the economy.
Being in and of the community also means that while we maintain a global perspective, we want to be deeply rooted in the local cultures and business communities.
Of course, the other key success factors are excellence and collaboration. Clients want their lawyers to deliver, and they don’t want excuses. So we need to have that combination of legal knowledge, sector experience, cultural understanding, and business savvy that our clients expect. For this reason, while we value the diversity of our different locations, we are also building one strong organizational culture around key values like collaboration, high performance, and creative solutions.
CEELM: Dentons’ Global Real Estate Group is widely recognized as top of the market across CEE, Europe, and the world. Evan, as co-chairman of that group, how have you managed to maintain that position and reputation over the years, and what’s happening with the group now?
Evan: Our Real Estate team has benefitted from what you might call a virtuous circle. We have a fantastic team of top-notch lawyers, so our clients are willing to trust us with their biggest transactions. Our successful work on these major deals solidifies our relationships with the biggest players in the sector and further builds our brand. This in turn helps us attract more great talent and more work, and so on.
At the end of the day, it is all about quality and relationships. Our clients know they can call us day or night and we will be there for them. They also know that we have a commercial mindset and can get their deals done.
CEELM: On a personal level, what are each of you proudest of at Dentons, either in terms of a personal or practice-group achievement, or of an element of the firm’s overall success?
Evan: I am personally most proud of our partners, who have taken the bold step of creating a new law firm, which is not just new but very different than all the other firms in the world. So far, our new firm has had great success by focusing on polycentricity, diversity, and giving back to the community, and I am very excited about what the future will hold.
Tomasz: I am proud of helping to make “being unreasonable” a key element of our strategy. By this I mean we’ve set very ambitious goals for ourselves – goals that made many market observers shake their head in disbelief – and we have achieved them. One of the “unreasonable” things we’ve done together is that while making major investments into our growth in Europe, we have also significantly increased our profitability and innovation – something that no one believed was possible.
This Article was originally published in Issue 5.11 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.