London office headcount: 165 lawyers, 42 partners
Fee-earner headcount change since 2011: +72%
London office management committee: Camille Abousleiman (chair), Jason Butwick, Gus Black and Miriam Gonzalez
Office speciality: Private equity, finance, litigation/investigations
Representative London work: Advising UK oil and gas independent Chrysaor Holdings’ $3bn acquisition of a package of assets in the UK North Sea from Shell.
‘We only arrived towards the end of last year and have had a strong start, signing deals during our first two months which originated at our prior firms.’
Ross Allardice, Dechert
Despite securing the first major US takeover of a London firm back in 2000, Dechert has since been largely viewed as strategically cautious and lacking visibility in the City. However, the Philadelphia-bred firm has been making notable efforts to make up ground in the last year or so.
As US firms continue their push in London, Dechert has found added momentum, reporting a solid growth in City income last year (notable compared to the 10% slide in its revenues in 2015), aided by a 30% jump in headcount and a number of high-profile hires.
Significant laterals in 2016 include high-profile City duo Ross Allardice from White & Case and John Markland from Kirkland & Ellis, who arrived last November in the firm’s private equity (PE) and finance practices.
Earlier in the year, Dechert turned to DLA Piper for finance partners Philip Butler and David Miles to enhance its direct lending business (Butler was DLA’s global head of leveraged finance). And most recently in the City, Dechert hired Clifford Chance’s litigation partner Stephen Surgeoner.
The firm also recorded a significant uplift in instructions last year. These include advising Magyar Telekom on the sale of its holding in the Invitel Group to the China-CEE Investment Fund and representing Ziarco’s shareholders on its sale to Novartis, led by corporate partner Graham Defries.
Other noteworthy Dechert London partners include head of structured and real estate finance Charles Malpass, and co-chair of the firm’s international trade and government regulation Miriam Gonzalez, whom the firm also hired from DLA in 2011. However, finance partners at rival firms argue that despite its US strength and its recent City push, Dechert will continue to struggle due to its lack of bank panel relationships.
‘Dechert is trying to operate how DLA did, but it has the weakness of not being on panels like other City firms are. This is not a problem for firms like Latham, because its work is not fee-sensitive,’ says a senior City finance partner.
However, Dechert’s head of corporate in London, Douglas Getter, argues changes to the credit markets have altered the dynamic.
‘Phil [Butler] and Dave [Miles] are a good example of the synergies between traditional and alternative lenders. They started at DLA and did bank work for over 20 years. By the time we met them, their work had evolved to almost 75% for direct lenders,’ he says.
And, while Dechert’s City history suggests it has not been fulfilling its potential, sustained expansion in the firm’s core areas – PE, finance and investigations, as well as life sciences, financial services M&A and international arbitration – seems to be working.
The same month it hired Allardice and Markland, Dechert picked up a first-time instruction for key White & Case client Mid Europa Partners on the largest PE deal in Romania.
Allardice comments: ‘We only arrived towards the end of last year and have had a strong start during this period, signing deals during our first two months which originated at our prior firms. This momentum has continued into 2017.’
Getter adds: ‘What the firm does very well is allowing the people in Europe to do European and UK deals without people coming over from the US. It’s to do with trust. The biggest deals we’ve done here are self-originated. We are 160 lawyers and certainly not a satellite office for the US.’
Regarding the firm’s strategic direction, New York, London and Hong Kong remain the key geographies in general, with Germany and Paris regarded as underweight and where the firm is paying particular attention to growth in the short term.
‘Now we’re looking to continue building our platform. Our USP is to represent funds in everything they do, both under US and UK law, and that’s the position we have put ourselves in,’ Getter concludes.