The Lawyer US 50 Rank6

The Dentons name originally belonged to Denton Hall, an energy and media specialist which in 2000 merged with the rather more staid and conservative banking firm Wilde Sapte. Denton Hall had previously been involved in failed tripartite talks with Cameron Markby Hewitt and McKenna & Co, and then Theodore Goddard and Richards Butler, but the union with Wilde Sapte was widely thought of as a good match, the two firms acting as perfect foils for each other. With offices across Europe,

The Dentons name originally belonged to Denton Hall, an energy and media specialist which in 2000 merged with the rather more staid and conservative banking firm Wilde Sapte.

Denton Hall had previously been involved in failed tripartite talks with Cameron Markby Hewitt and McKenna & Co, and then Theodore Goddard and Richards Butler, but the union with Wilde Sapte was widely thought of as a good match, the two firms acting as perfect foils for each other. With offices across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the new Denton Wilde Sapte sat happily among the larger City firms, keeping its reputation for banking and energy work if not necessarily causing the magic circle firms to quake in their boots.

A spell of unpleasantness began in 2003 when the firm made 70 fee earners and support staff redundant, disbanded its European referral network and failed to secure a US merger with Pillsbury Winthrop. The closure of the firm’s Asian offices came the following year, while the defection of 40 media and IP lawyers to DLA Piper was the largest ever team walkout in UK legal history.

Putting this bad patch behind it, the firm regrouped around four key industry sectors: financial institutions, real estate, energy and TMT, allowing it to gain a real foothold in Africa and the Middle East. A small Milton Keynes office was considerably bulked up in 2008 with the addition of 40 commercial lawyers from Howes Percival; that raid also brought on board Brandon Ransley, who would later become Dentons’s UK managing partner.

The real transformation began in 2010 with a merger with the US’s Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, changing the name of the firm to SNR Denton. Then in March 2013 came a three-way merger with international outfit Salans and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain, with the name shortened to simply Dentons. The final piece of the jigsaw was a merger with the Chinese firm Dacheng in 2015.

The leading figures in modern-day Dentons are global CEO Elliot Portnoy and global chair Joe Andrew. Portnoy had previously been the youngest-ever chairman of Sonnenschein, while Andrew is a Sonnenschein partner of six years and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The succession of mergers between 2010 and 2015 has made Dentons the largest law firm in the world with offices in over 60 countries and nearly 8,000 lawyers. The downside: it is open to accusations that it is mid-market and patchy in quality. The firm’s leadership insists that there has been a dramatic change in the way clients perceive the firm. To quote Portnoy in 2017: “The legacy firms came together because in each of their markets they were largely undifferentiated, the brand was not enhancing our ability to meet client needs and attract and retain talent. Today it’s a world apart. We’re not just the fastest growing but also one of the best-known legal brands in the world. And lawyers are joining us precisely because of that.”