Gowling WLG is the product of the 2016 tie-up between UK firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co and Canadian giant Gowlings. The English arm of the new firm has plenty of experience of mergers and the associated re-branding process, having only just re-christened itself after its two current components – Birmingham-based Wragge & Co and London’s Lawrence Graham – hooked up in 2014.
Like many recent legal sector mega-combinations, the US and UK elements of Gowling have been structured as separate entities, which may explain why in Britain the firm still feels very much like Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co.
For trainees, this is largely good news, as the firm’s two legacy outfits have a longstanding reputation for offering a solid grounding to one’s career, decent quality work (alongside the standard trainee and junior lawyer admin tasks) and being a generally pleasant place to be employed. One current Gowling rookie tells us that “most of the time the work is challenging and of a quality nature”, while another adds: “A lot of it is managing a transaction – issuing engrossments, chasing and pushing papers, dealing with forms, sending out covering letter, very admin heavy tasks.”
Fellow trainees and juniors are largely “collegiate”, while partners are at the “friendly” end of the corporate law boss spectrum. Work/life balance is pretty good, if variable. As one trainee puts it: “Varies from team to team but 8 times out of 10 you know what you’re getting yourself into before you choose the seat (here’s looking at you banking/corporate). Sometimes you can be unlucky (or lucky depending on how you look at it) in that a usually well balanced team will be absolutely slammed during your time there, but lots of teams work pretty normal hours and it’s not unusual at all to leave near on time. The emphasis on presenteeism varies widely from team to team.”
Real estate is apparently more chilled out than other teams, but even in corporate don’t expect more than occasional weekend working.
All of this takes place in some of the most impressive law firm offices in the UK – both the Snow Hill Birmingham headquarters and the Thames-side London gaffe are rated A* in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18, with insiders describing them as “beautiful”. What’s more they have “really, really good” canteens, “loads of choice”. We’re told that “you could happily eat a main meal here every day and have toast for dinner if you were so inclined”. Particularly delightful are the “legendary Mars bar cakes” and the “tuna steaks, freshly made salsas and BBQs outside on the patio”.
If there’s a tension within the firm’s UK arm, it’s the quite different norms which the Birmingham and London offices are said to have (remember that as recently as 2014 these were different firms). Expect to work longer hours in the capital, although the upside to this is that you’ll get paid significantly more and the work social life is apparently better. “The ‘young, free professional’ vibe isn’t really a thing here [in Birmingham],” a trainee tells is. But getting ahead professionally may be: insiders warn against underestimating Gowling WLG’s Brummie branch, in which much management power lies.
Where trainees may find themselves slightly disappointed is in the lack of international opportunities afforded to them by a firm that has 18 offices in 11 different countries. Just 15% have done international secondments or spent time abroad with the firm, according to our figures. “We need more international secondments,” one rookie pleads. The handful who do make it away, have spent time in locations including Dubai, Guangzhou and Brussels, where they “got to know the international focus of the firm from a different perspective, build relationships with colleagues in an international office and understand how transactions work in different jurisdictions.” Often firms that don’t offer many international secondments mitigate this with plentiful client secondments, but we understand that these are almost non-existent at trainee level at Gowling.
Another gripe is pay – which is at the lower end of the top City law firm market in London – and lack of perks. We’re told that firm-sponsored GP and dental services would be particularly appreciated.
Rather than look at such matters, it seems that Gowling has been focusing instead on improving its technology, which has apparently come on leaps and bounds in recent years “This is an area the firm continues to invest heavily in,” one insider tells us, adding: “Employees are encouraged to contribute innovative ideas to management.” We hope the artificial intelligence software that the firm has been dabbling in isn’t too good: “Sometimes it is too quiet and I don’t have much going on – I wish I had more,” one trainee confides.