Watch your waistline, McDentons

US merger signals fast-grow diet: are Dentons’ eyes too big for its tummy?

Months after SNR Denton, Salans and Fraser Milner Casgrain merged to form Dentons, the firm is casting a hungry eye back to the US. A bit like squaffling down two quarter-pounders with fries and 20 Chicken McNuggets before returning to the menu, if you like.

And they’re munching through a potential US merger fast. Partners have until 14 November to vote on a tie-up with Atlanta and Washington DC-based McKenna Long & Aldridge, which would add 575 lawyers to Dentons’ global presence. 

Is the firm fattening up too fast?

“There’s a complaint that the firm’s strategy is seeing it grow too quickly, but it would be a brave person who objected,” says a source from legacy SNR Denton. “That’s not the culture of the firm. People tend to just get along with it.” 

Sources say the drivers behind all this are global chair Joe Andrew and global CEO Elliot Portnoy, both based in DC. 

“If anyone’s got a problem with this merger it’s most likely to be the US side,” adds a London-based source. “It wouldn’t affect profitability or cause a cost strain on European operations [Dentons Europe and Dentons UK, Middle East and Africa are separate LLPs within the firm’s Swiss Verein structure] so people over here are pretty neutral. But for those in the US, it would be right on their doorstep.”

But sources predict the tie-up is almost certain to go ahead. Key partners have been instructed to keep departments on-message, while the URL dentonsmckenna.com has been snapped up, according to registry whois.com.

So, it will take a brave partner to oppose the motion, but is there any need to? Former lawyers at SNR Denton say the firm considered tie-ups with smaller US boutiques, suggesting the strategy here – at least from legacy SNR Denton’s side – is more about specialism than size.

The firm is known for its political connections in the US, and Dentons highlighted its “industry-leading” government contracts practice and insurance group as a major sell earlier in the year. 

Whatever the reasons, let’s hope European CEO Tomasz Dabrowski and UKMEA head Matthew Jones encourage partners outside the US to raise their hands before it gets too much to digest.