fivehundred magazine > Interview with: Dorothy Cory-Wright > Ready for take-off

Ready for take-off

The former barrister, now Dechert’s head of disputes in London, talks about her firm’s recent growth, lateral hires, cost control in litigation, and peer recognition

What have been your greatest personal/professional achievements to date and why?

Professionally, the many cases where we made new law, seeing the inner workings of a great banking institution through advising the Monitor on HSBC, and leading the investigation for the FIA stewards into Crashgate at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix; uncovering what The Times described as the worst act of cheating in the history of sport.

In addition, working with fantastic lawyers such as Dame Elizabeth Gloster, Barbara Dohmann QC, and Clare Montgomery QC and learning from them. Personally, getting a tenancy in a civil/commercial set of chambers as a state-educated 23-year-old woman in 1984 is right up there, but also pursuing my career as a single parent since my children (now in their 20s) were tiny.

As Dechert’s head of disputes in London, what are the firm’s ambitions in London generally and for the disputes practice?

London is a strategic priority and focus of investment for the firm. The firm’s global strategy is based around the practice areas and economic centres where clients are most active and where there is the greatest opportunity for growth, of which London is key. Dechert as a firm – and particularly in London – is a very exciting place to be.

Dechert is in a transformational phase and there is a real impetus for growth, targeting strong lateral partners to build out the key global practices. We need to scale up further to serve our clients even better. The demand is there, the foundations are there, and we are poised to soar. In the last two years Dechert’s London office has grown by more than 20%, and we intend to grow even more. In fact, watch this space for further news about the disputes practice in 2019.

What do you think are the top three priorities for clients – and why? And how are these priorities changing? Do you find yourself pigeonholed by historical reputations?

(1) Winning, but what that means depends on achieving the client’s optimal outcome; (2) a firm that can advise across the board, across jurisdictions, and understand the reputational, regulatory, and business implications of litigation or arbitration; and (3) high service levels’ teamwork and/trusting/liking the people you will be working so closely with, often over several years. Reputational concerns arising from disputes are increasing, with digital communication fostering activism and messaging through non-traditional media channels.

What are the biggest challenges in the world of litigation?

As other global law firms handling large litigation cases will no doubt agree, cost control is far and away the biggest challenge. It has to be at the forefront of how we represent our clients and we have to be resourceful and innovative to provide excellent service but at the same time limit cost exposure. Good communication is key. No surprises!

What are the biggest challenges facing US firms in London?

Firms such as Dechert, which have strong capabilities on both sides of the Atlantic and global reach, are performing well in London. The London market is very crowded, so differentiating yourself is a challenge for everyone. Our clients know us as one of the elite global law firms in our chosen areas of specialisation, but there is arguably a lag in recognition amongst our London peer firms.

Has your firm recently rethought its approach to diversity and inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion has been in Dechert’s DNA for many years. We were one of the first firms to elect a female partner in the early 1970s, Norma Levy Shapiro, and we remain very proactive with our affinity groups and diversity events.

We have a dedicated director of diversity and inclusion and a partner-led diversity and inclusion committee supporting our various affinity groups’ which include the Asian Affinity Group, Black Lawyers Alliance, Dechert’s Family Network, Latino Affinity Group, LGBTQ Affinity Group, and Dechert Heroes, an affinity group for veterans and their families.

In addition, members of Dechert’s Global Women’s Initiative, of which I am one, meet regularly to identify and implement initiatives that promote opportunities for women to advance and lead throughout the firm. One such example is the recently launched career and personal development programme specifically designed to support the progression of female talent into senior roles. The programme incorporates mentoring, networking and leadership training from both external trainers and internal role models and is open to all women in the business. Crucially, it helps women develop a support network within the firm.

Whilst there is clearly more to do, Dechert is regularly recognised for our efforts – for example our London office received the Commendation for Diversity Award at the Awards 2019 and an accolade for ‘All Star Sustained Performance in Recruiting Outstanding Diverse Talent’ in 2018 from Aspiring Solicitors, a non-profit group that promotes more diverse recruiting.

How would you define Dechert’s culture? What distinguishes the firm from its peers?

It takes a committed, global team to deliver excellence in service and innovative thinking. The best ideas come from respecting and valuing everyone’s voice. The great thing about Dechert is that it’s all about building community within the workplace and with our clients; creating an environment where people are trusted and empowered to do their best.

What does innovation mean to you, and what are the key factors changing the way legal services are delivered?

Innovation and the progress of technology is a huge issue for all law firms. To me, innovation means ‘how do we invest in and harness innovation to serve our clients better and control costs?’ For reasons of competitive advantage the firm does not overtly publicise its approach to tech innovation, but we have an Innovation Task Force, and we have invested heavily in technology-led services that are leading the way in the legal market.