Dentons secures private equity backing for global advisory business

Andrew: Once-in-a-career opportunity

The world’s largest law firm, Dentons, has launched a standalone advisory firm backed by private equity with the aim of building a vast multidisciplinary offering across the globe.

Taking advantage of its network of 204 offices in 81 countries, Dentons is looking to combine three elements – substantive experience, industry and sector knowledge, and geographic and cultural experience – in a joined-up offering called Dentons Global Advisors (DGA).

Dentons chairman Joe Andrew told Legal Futures that while lots of law firms have the people who could offer the first, and some the second, there were “virtually none who can do those two things and none who can do them in all the places where clients want them”.

Core to the creation of Dentons as we know it today in 2013 “was to be more than a traditional law firm”, he explained. DGA fleshes out the desire to add non-legal services that Mr Andrew articulated in an interview with Legal Futures last August.

DGA has to be a separate business for regulatory reasons. The law firm has a minority stake in it and will provide support services.

DGA will follow Dentons’ global policies, ethics, compliance and so on “but it has the economic ability not to be governed by annual nature of how law firms operate”, Mr Andrew said. This meant not extracting all the profit for the benefit of the partners and being able to offer stock options.

Dentons has not yet announced the identity of the private equity investor so as not to detract from the news of DGA’s creation.

As well as growing through merger and acquisition, Mr Andrew said the 562 non-lawyer professionals working at the law firm at partner level across the world would be encouraged, but not forced, to switch over to DGA.

“First you [have to] form a desirable place to work,” he said. “That’s our goal. We’re in no rush to do that. We’ve built a system where economically it doesn’t matter which one you’re working at.”

The first business to fold into DGA is strategic advisory firm Albright Stonebridge Group, chaired by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Dentons has grown incredibly since 2013 – “with no outside funding”, Mr Andrew noted – and he said this platform meant DGA could be built even more quickly as a result: “We have the ability on day one to have people in 204 offices answer the phone saying ‘Dentons Global Advisors’.”

At the same time, DGA will not be as big as the law firm, which now has over 20,000 people, because some of the expertise it will need, such as local know-how, is already in place.

In all, Dentons has identified 16 ‘events’ in the lifetime of a company for which it wants to provide both legal and advisory services: mergers and acquisitions, shareholder activism, initial public offerings and spin-offs, market entry, cybersecurity attacks, investigative reports, natural disasters, social and cultural upheaval, litigation, leadership transitions, government investigations, operational incidents, legislative and regulatory changes, workforce disruptions, financial restatements, and restructuring and bankruptcy.

DGA will not just work with Dentons, however. Mr Andrew said it would look to work alongside other consulting firms, law firms, accounting firms and professional service providers of any expertise.

He said an internal analysis showed that every firm that has joined Dentons in the last four years has gained more referrals from other law firms, having assumed they would lose them; indeed, the data was “crucial” in persuading the Albright Stonebridge Group to join DGA.

“Fundamentally, if a law firm has a very good relationship with you, they don’t stop because you join Dentons,” he said. In fact, it became easier to be instructed in multijurisdictional work.

Mr Andrew said the pandemic had “turbocharged” the need to create DGA. “There has never been a time when so many corporations and executives in the C-suite are rethinking big strategic parts of their businesses.

“This is a once-in-a-career opportunity to be pulled into bigger, deeper boardroom conversations… We do that by offering a broader range of services.”

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