'I am most proud of... the idea that is Dentons': founding chair to step down

Global giant to axe chairman role following Joe Andrew's return to practice next year

Joe Andrew, founding global chair of Dentons, is to step down from the role next year, after which the global giant has said it will axe the role. 

Dentons said Bethesda, Maryland-based Andrew would return to his corporate practice after stepping down. He has served as Dentons’ global chair since the firm assumed its current name following the 2013 $1bn tripartite merger of legacy SNR Denton, of which Andrew was chair, with French firm Salans and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain. 

Since then more than 50 law firms have joined Dentons, which became the largest firm in the world by lawyer headcount in 2015 following a tie-up with 4,000-lawyer Beijing giant Dacheng. 

“As the architect of Dentons’ strategy, I am most proud of this simple thing: the idea that is Dentons,” said Andrew. “When we announced the launch of Dentons a decade ago, many of our critics doubted it would succeed. But today we know it is a powerful concept because more law firms and lawyers have joined Dentons than any other firm in the history of the legal profession. Dentons has never been stronger so it’s time for me to ‘go out on top’ with all the successes we have had. I’m looking forward to taking the same innovation and energy I brought to the position of global chairman and applying it to the practice of law for my clients.”

Andrew has practised corporate law for nearly 30 years, focusing on mergers and acquisitions of regulated companies. He has been involved in negotiating deals worth in excess of $500bn, including numerous Fortune 500 mergers in the health care and insurance areas. From 1999 to 2001 he also served as chair of the Democratic National Committee. 

Dentons said Andrew received the support of the global management committee and global board to run for another term, but decided to retire the global chairman role following his decision not to do so. 

All other global management positions remain in place, including that of global CEO Elliott Portnoy, who has worked with Andrew to create a ‘polycentric’ law firm through a series of mergers that began back in 2010 when Chicago legacy Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal (Sonnenschein) joined with London’s Denton Wilde Sapte to create SNR Denton. Andrew had been a partner at Sonnenschein, while Portnoy had been its youngest chairman and was made global CEO of SNR Denton. 

“Joe's impact on the business of law has been enormous,” said Portnoy. “He not only conceived the strategy that made Dentons the world’s largest global law firm, helping lead more than fifty whole firm combinations, but he is the architect of many of the innovations that Dentons is known for, including our polycentric business model – a key differentiator for the firm.” 

Dentons’ UK, Ireland and Middle East business saw revenue grow 14% in the year ending 30 April 2022 to £260.4m, a jump that was particularly noteworthy given its muted performance the year before as it responded to the knock-on effects from the earlier stages of the pandemic.

Meantime the LLP's profit per equity partner is understood to sit just short of £1m for the same period. 

Dentons announced the spin out of it 250-strong Moscow arm in March in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine but since then has announced tie-ups with firms in countries including Tunisia and India – the latter marking the first time an international law firm had combined with a law firm in India’s historically isolated legal market. 

The firm has also made a number of noteworthy hires since the start of the year, among them the addition of Hogan Lovells’ global sustainability head, Aragon St-Charles, in March as its first-ever global environmental, social and governance strategy leader. 

And it has hired a number of partners from rivals including William Fry, McCann Fitzgerald and Allen & Overy for its office in Dublin. The firm launched there organically in 2020 in a departure from its usual expansion-through-mergers approach, which suggested the top firms in Ireland’s tight-knit legal market had resisted its approaches. 

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