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 500 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. In March 2020, it expanded into the Irish market and snapped up media law firm Paul Tweed.
This acquisitive strategy means Gateley’s share price has had a bumpy ride, but it is now up approximately 50% on the admission price, trading at 143 pence per share at the time of writing.
Mike Ward stood down as CEO in April 2020 after almost 20 years at the helm. Rod Waldie was announced as his successor in July 2019.
Since there are no partners, there is no profit per equity partner.
A bullish trading update to the London Stock Exchange revealed that the business expects revenue in the financial year to April 2020 will be “not less than £108 million” (up 4.3% on the previous year). Many of the group’s counter-cyclical practice areas, including restructuring and dispute resolution are busy, according to the update, with transactional teams redeployed to support the increased activity.
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 Birmingham, Guildford, Leicester, Leeds, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Reading offices. Vacation scheme participants spend their 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 2020-21 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”.
In normal times 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, pre-pandemic, 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, and all employees are said to 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”. Another adds: “The firm is quite modern in that traditional top-down dynamics are uncommon; partners are down to earth and approachable.”
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” although 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 upgrading — 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.
Yet, the firm adapted well to remote-working in the wake of COVID-19, with one trainee telling us: “Initially the reaction felt quite slow and it took a while to get the technology together but it has since done well.”
There was consensus that the offices are “functional rather than flashy” and working conditions “not particularly comfortable”. However, we’re told that the offices are “based in good locations” and some but not all have canteens. Plus the firm is currently phasing to a “paper lite” work environment, with recycling bins dotted in some areas.