Dentons offices in Washington, D.C., at 1900 K Street, N.W. March 30, 2017.
Dentons offices in Washington, D.C., at 1900 K Street, N.W. March 30, 2017. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Cuts at the world’s largest law firm this year haven’t been confined to the roughly 60 U.S. staff jobs and five U.K. lawyer losses that made headlines last month.

Dentons has also asked several U.S.-based partners to leave after the firm failed to meet its 2016 budget, multiple sources said.

As many as 20 or more partners have been forced out since January, including at least three partners who are still listed on the firm’s website, according to two law firm recruiters and three former Dentons lawyers.

The firm informed lawyers of their terminations after the new year, when they met individually with management to discuss compensation, two of the sources said.

When asked for clarification on cuts the firm made to U.S. lawyers, a firm spokeswoman responded: “We do not comment on the specifics of our partner review process, though, as is the case with virtually every law firm, there is a regular review where the current and future needs of our clients are considered.”

The firm added that it continues to grow, hiring more than two dozen lawyers in the U.S. in the first quarter of this year. It also said it has increased U.S. revenue and profits per partner each year, but declined to provide financial specifics.

Moving On

Few have a full picture of the departures, including inside Dentons, partly because of the firm’s large, decentralized nature.

The firm, which is structured as a Swiss verein, has a relatively opaque approach to partnership management and compensation even within its constituent offices. Many of the lawyers who’ve left Dentons since January either declined to comment or did not return calls.

Some who were cut in the past month still have their biographies listed on Dentons’ website and are still identified as working there. That group includes lawyers in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

The lawyers are still affiliated with Dentons because the firm gives them up to a 90-day departure period before a cut takes effect, allowing lawyers time to find positions elsewhere.

The same provision makes it nearly impossible to determine whether someone who left the firm did so voluntarily or not.

About two dozen partners have left Dentons in announced moves since January, not necessarily related to layoffs. They include:

Three public finance lawyers who joined Butler Snow in Georgia;

An insurance partner who joined Drinker Biddle & Reath in San Francisco;

• Dentons’ New York-based startup practice co-chair, who joined Foley Hoag;

Two startup partners, whose New York boutique joined Dentons in 2014, jumped to Fox Rothschild;

An emerging markets energy strategies group leader who joined Reed Smith in Washington, D.C.;

Two energy project development partners who joined Troutman Sanders;

• A New York aircraft finance lawyer who joined Winston & Strawn.

At least three partners who left since January have also gone to in-house positions, including Joseph Blanco, the former office managing partner in Atlanta, and Lloyd Winans, the general counsel of Lehman Brothers until 2009.

A handful of the departed partners came to the Dentons partnership through its merger with McKenna, Long & Aldridge in mid-2015, including Blanco, who was replaced as office head by another former McKenna Long partner, Sharon Gay.

Dentons also cut lawyer positions last year, and former lawyers said the firm has missed its budget projections for two years running. The former lawyers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said profits had been tamped down by poor revenue collection and high operational expenses shouldered by the U.S. partnership, including millions of dollars in salary and bonuses that went to the firm’s global management and staff.

“This year’s unhappiness was last year’s unhappiness compounded,” said one lawyer who recently left the firm.

Dentons acknowledged last month that it had laid off 60 staff members in the U.S. following consolidation from the McKenna Long merger. It also cut lawyer and staff jobs in the U.K. this year.

Yet the firm, which boasts on its website that it has 7,600 lawyers in 57 countries, has continued its quest for global expansion, opening offices in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and by combining with firms in Costa Rica and The Netherlands.

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