Gateley was created in 2006 from the merger between Birmingham-based Gateley Wareing and Edinburgh-based Henderson Boyd Jackson (HBJ). The firm converted into an alternative business structure (ABS) in 2013 and was the first UK full-service firm to list on the stock market in 2015. HBJ was not part of the flotation and was bought by Addleshaw Goddard in 2017.
Gateley’s directors acknowledged that the traditional partnership path was not appealing to everyone, and hoped that listing would attract and retain talent. This has indeed been the case so far, with almost 40 partners joining the company since the IPO, compared to a small number per year as an LLP. Overall headcount also rose from 696 to 757. There are approximately 509 fee earners and 150 partners at the firm.
The firm floated primarily to enhance its profile and fund its expansion strategy. Since the IPO, it has opened an office in Reading and made a string of acquisitions. These include purchasing GCL Solicitors in March 2018, which was partly financed through the issue of new shares. It has diversified its business by acquiring tax, property and consultancy businesses.
The acquisitive strategy means Gateley’s share price has had a bumpy ride, but it is now up approximately 70% on the admission price, trading at 160 pence per share at the time of writing.
Since there are no partners, there is no profit per equity partner, but the CEO Mike Ward’s total pay packet for the latest financial year was £261,000.
In its latest financial results, revenue was £103.5 million (up 20% following a 11% rise the previous year) and profits after tax were up 11% to £13 million. Corporate and property law account for the majority of the firm’s revenue.
Gateley is a mid-market, national firm in the traditional sense, with offices across the UK, but it also boasts a Dubai office.
Trainees are recruited exclusively from the two week-long vacation scheme that is run in June and July at the Leicester, Leeds, Manchester, London, Reading, Birmingham, Guildford and Nottingham offices. Vac scheme participants spend the time in a single department.
Trainees can sit in banking, employment, commercial dispute resolution, construction, private client, commercial, tax, restructuring, residential development, regulatory and pensions. The quality of work is “generally good”, respondents to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019-20 tell us, but there is “a lot of pretty administrative stuff interspersed with actual law”.
There are no international secondments but one trainee did manage to spend six months at Manchester City Football club.
The standard of training “varied considerably between departments” but “on the whole was good”. In the London office “you’re often the sole trainee in a small team so you’re expected to do NQ level work” which can mean the training contract “is at times challenging”.
The social life at Gateley is “quite good for a law firm” with “lots of events and always a good turnout”. The firm organises karaoke nights, curry and cocktail nights, and a “bi-annual party where all 1,000 staff get together for a great night”. A trainee admitted they “can’t complain. It could be better, and it could be worse”.
Gateley prides itself on its culture — CEO Mike Ward has stated that all employees share a “Gateley Team Spirit” which binds them together and sets them apart. Do trainees agree? One was thankful that they had “yet to encounter a full-fledged Trunchbull type” partner, describing seniors as “generally supportive and willing to help”.
This team spirit would be necessary to motivate one trainee whose day involves “long hours and a limited lunch break” and for another that finds themselves “often taking work home”. On the other hand, one trainee we heard from was pleased to have “never worked a weekend and never pulled an all-nighter”.
Gateley is one of many firms to move to open plan offices, which “means an open-door policy” and that partners “even speak” to trainees! However, this can admittedly “differ on a day to day basis” and is “largely department specific — some can be very bad”.
As for perks, Gateley offers a unique perk: it allows employees to buy shares in the company. Trainees reported other perks generally as “good but nothing exceptional” however they “often get concert tickets from media clients which is great”.
On the tech front, the firm could be doing better. Gateley’s IT system clearly needs upgraded – trainees reported “frequent IT issues” and “outlook crashing five times per day”. The system runs on “an army of support staff shovelling coal into the engine,” quips one rookie.
The share price may be up but there was consensus that the offices are “functional rather than flashy” and working conditions “not particularly comfortable”. However, the offices are “based in good locations” and some but not all have canteens.