DWF: Putting the people first

With its focus on flexible ways of working and commitment to ESG, legal services provider DWF is growing its reputation as a trustworthy partner and employer

Eimear Collins, managing partner at DWF in Dublin: ‘When we had the downturn in the market, one of the things we did as a trusted legal adviser to clients was to stand shoulder to shoulder with them during the difficult times because that was important. We’re doing the same with our people’. Picture: Mark Nixon

DWF in Dublin has steadily gone from strength to strength as a leading global provider of integrated legal and business services, and its developing focus on ESG initiatives ensures this trend will continue.

With offices and associations across the globe and approximately 4,000 employees internationally, DWF has significant reach and strength in depth.

Publicly listed on the main stock exchange in London, it publishes its financial results twice yearly, usually in July and December. It had net revenue of £338 million (€407.8 million) in the year ended April 30, 2021.

Since it expanded into the Dublin legal market in 2013, DWF has grown and developed a team of multi-disciplinary lawyers to support Irish and international clients.

The full-service offering of legal and business services covers specialisms such as dispute resolution and employment law, across critical sectors such as insurance, renewables and infrastructure, real estate/construction, and financial services.

The last few years in particular have thrown up significant challenges to the legal sector, with Brexit and the pandemic being the two most high-profile examples. Yet there’s been a flurry of activity in Ireland in recent months with firms either merging with a domestic entity or looking to expand their reach.

“You can just see that in the last 12 months, there’s still been vibrant activity with new entrants coming into the market,” Eimear Collins, managing partner at DWF in Dublin, said. “It reinforces clients’ belief that a presence in Dublin is a must-have if you want a global reach. One that isn’t just a speciality office or a back office, but a full-service firm to support both domestic and international clients.”

This is very much reinforced by the breadth of services and industries here. While Ireland is a small island, it hosts a considerable variety of sectors from the multinational tech companies based in Dublin to the pharmaceutical companies based around the Shannon region. Also, with the data sector growing as well, it brings a real vibrancy to its economy.

A key strength of DWF's Dublin office is its ability to draw on the global capabilities from across the wider group.

DWF has three main strands to its work. The first is Legal Advisory, premium legal services offering the best in commercial intelligence and industry sector experience to deliver tailored advice to clients.

The second is Connected Services which are additional services that complement its legal offering. For example, legal advice for insurance may also benefit from having claims management and adjusting, or another service may require forensics or regulatory consulting advice.

The final strand is Mindcrest, which offers ways to optimise, systemise and scale legal work for cost and time efficiencies.

The combination of the three offerings results in a business greater than the sum of its parts, ensuring that clients can benefit from bespoke solutions to suit their legal and business needs, with greater efficiency, price certainty and transparency.

For clients, it’s important to not only know what’s happening now, but what’s coming down the line six, 12 or even 24 months later.

Having strong communication across all 30 offices is crucial as each jurisdiction faces its own challenges that others can learn from. That’s why collaboration, technologies, recruitment across the board, and further developing its partnership with its Belfast office to create a stronger all-Ireland initiative are key.


Thinking about the future

The last few years haven’t just brought up new challenges, but new ways of approaching work. One of the elements that attracted Collins to DWF back in 2017 was its focus on flexible and alternative ways of working.

The focus has always been on creating an environment and understanding where work can be completed and avoiding any signs of presenteeism.

When the pandemic hit, all the developments in that area paid off, as DWF was already set up for agile working practices, and was able to develop this further with laptops, docking stations and the rollout of Microsoft Teams that allowed for truly global collaboration.

Hybrid working took on a new priority for colleagues, depicted through a firm-wide survey which found that staff would prefer to be in the office between two to three days a week.

As a result, DWF moved from 5 George’s Dock to a reduced space at 2 Dublin Landings to better reflect this trend, while also supporting goals to reduce unnecessary travel and minimise carbon footprint.

Even the pandemic brought up difficulties that could not have been envisioned, so initiatives focusing on mental health, connection and wellbeing have taken on new importance.

A big element of this is its own awards programme, the Rubie Awards, designed to recognise people for their work and give its approximately 4,000 employees a way to connect and bring a feel-good factor across the firm.

“The awards are a way to ensure that people know they’re valued as the days and weeks can get very busy. It’s a chance to take that pause; part of our underlying philosophy to gauge performance on how we’re treating people.

“Very quickly, we realised working from home brings its own difficulties, so beyond the technical side, we also brought in initiatives to support mental health, which is a big focus for DWF,” Collins said.

A Wellbeing Committee, made up of colleagues across the business, brings together the current resources and support that is on offer and looks at new ideas and initiatives to continue to support and enhance wellbeing.

DWF life includes Wellbeing Wednesdays with a focus on blogs, advice and webinars and colleagues can also access an employee assistance helpline for a range of issues.

“Looking after our people’s health and wellbeing is an essential part of ensuring we are all able to be the best versions of ourselves,” she said.

For future solicitors, it’s just as important for them to know they’re making a difference to the world as it is career progression. At one point, elements like remuneration and the route to equity were the primary concerns for new employees, but now it’s very much about the firm’s value beyond the spreadsheet.

“Given the amount of time they spend in their life working, it’s important to them to feel like they’re making a difference and see results in it,” she said. “It’s very important for them to be heard, for their values to be respected and it would be remiss of us not to give them.”

As time moves on, a company’s ESG strategy will come into play more and more and DWF has its own in place, which sets out long-term carbon reduction and diversity and inclusion targets among others.

The first strand is climate change which is huge for the younger generation, said Collins, and DWF has specific targets to meet.

“They find that impressive because there’s something to work towards and if we achieve that, every single person in DWF has played a part in doing so,” she said.

Others include partnering with DCU’s Access Programme, which has run for 30 years and is designed to support those from disadvantaged communities in pursuing higher education. Add to that people’s champions, diversity and inclusion initiatives, gender inclusivity and targets and internship programmes.

The case for this isn’t to tick a box, as that goes counter to the philosophy DWF has built, but to ensure the future is full of perspectives, viewpoints and creative ideas that might not be available if it was business as usual. As Collins puts it: “every individual who joins brings something to the table.”

As for the future, DWF is looking to hire more people across its office and grow the Dublin base. That, on top of developing initiatives like its ESG strategy, will take priority, but Collins stresses an essential factor in this is the people.

“When we had the downturn in the market, one of the things we did as a trusted legal adviser to clients was to stand shoulder to shoulder with them during the difficult times because that was important,” she said. “We’re doing the same with our people.”