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Q&A: David Collins – Dentons UK corporate head on a fresh start, deals gone wrong and life after BLP

After his move from Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) to Dentons as the new head of UK corporate and co-chair of global M&A, David Collins (pictured) talks to Matthew Field about his new role, deal making and his past leadership bid.

How does it feel to take on the new role at Dentons?

It has been reinvigorating personally and refreshing. During the hiring process the people here were very open and honest about the challenges, so it really managed my expectations very well.

There were a number of people I had known in previous encounters, I think Joe Andrew and Elliot Portnoy have a very compelling story, and I spent some time with both of them as well as Jeremy Cohen, Brandon Ransley, Scott Singer and a number of others.

What are the plans for Dentons’ corporate offering?

We are investing in our corporate business in the UK and that involves being stronger in our home market as well as our global platform, not only attracting work here but also cross-border deals led out of London. We have the opportunity to mine the Dentons global platform for inbound opportunities and business opportunities that are multinational. I have been buoyed by the firm’s real commitment to invest in the corporate business.

What brought about your challenge for a leadership role at BLP?

I thought it was the right time for the firm to have an open and honest discussion as to what the future firm should look like. Everyone recognised to one degree or another that scale was becoming an issue at BLP. From my perspective, we needed to do something wholesale in the domestic market to leverage more revenue and costs synergies in our home market, and then look towards the US.

It was a fascinating experience to have been part of the election process. I didn’t rush into anything afterward, but after a period of reflection I felt that I had taken the department I had looked after as far as I could within the confines of the existing platform and the financial resources available.

Have there been any standout deals in your career?

One great deal was when I was seconded to Guinness during its merger with Grand Metropolitan for $33bn to form Diageo in 1997. I was on secondment from Paisner in the merger legal team at Guinness. That was really instructive in learning about the various aspects of a deal from the client side.

And what about deals gone wrong..?

One I remember petrified me. I was told to go get a document signed at about three in the morning by a shareholder. I had to go to a house in Chelsea and a very irate man dressed in a nightcap and gown opened the door, ranting at me. He told me that he’d sign but I would have to come upstairs. He showed me into his bedroom where his wife was asleep in bed. He signed the document and told me to go back to the office and tell people he would never be using Theodore Goddard again!

So I found a cab in the early hours, petrified about telling the partner I had lost a client, but the partner laughed and said the man had never used us before. That was a very surreal experience.

Read more on the firm in ‘The pitch – A new kind of global law firm emerges but can Dentons live up to the hype?’