Gowling WLG is the now well-established result of a 2016 merger between British firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co and Canadian giant Gowlings. In the UK it is split between Birmingham and London, with both offices boasting deep roots through their earlier incarnations as Wragge & Co and Lawrence Graham (which themselves merged in 2014). Wragge has long been a major player in Birmingham — arguably the city’s biggest name — with its history going back to 1834. Lawrence Graham has similarly venerable heritage in London and dates back even further, having been founded in 1730.
Like many legal sector mega-mergers before it, the North American and UK elements of Gowling WLG have been structured as separate entities — not dissimilar to the ‘Swiss verein’ model favoured by several major global outfits — which may explain why in Britain the firm still feels very much like Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co with added international offices.
Rich history aside, Gowling WLG’s most recently available financial results show an average profit per equity partner (PEP) figure of roughly £370,000, while revenue sits at around the £180 million mark. Although its Canadian arm doesn’t formally publish its financials, its turnover is understood to be about £450 million. It’s unclear what impact — if any — the pandemic has had on the firm’s financial performance.
The firm continues to act as a solid platform from which trainees can build their legal careers, with insiders describing the training as “good” comprising “regular training sessions as well as wider departmental sessions” and “lots of opportunities to learn by watching”. Rookies also report that “you get a good level of responsibility with teams who are keen to supervise and explain different concepts”. One spy details their experience: “I have been given lots of responsibility, such as running my own matters and being the client’s point of contact and have also learnt a lot from assisting on larger matters such as drafting or reviewing documents. There is a lot of variety in my work, and I feel I am learning a lot. There is also always opportunity to attend training sessions to develop knowledge on technical legal points in more detail.”
The quality of work is reported as being “very good”, but is equally “very team dependent”: “For the most part I’ve had stimulating work (perhaps more so because of the variety of work and matters) but you expect mind-numbing admin jobs as part of the package.” Another Legal Cheek spy explains “some seats require more administrative support from trainees, which is important but not that interesting”, but “there is also the opportunity to get involved in big corporate deals, contentious matters that go all the way to the High Court and headline grabbing cases”.
Trainees generally report a nice “supportive culture” at the firm, but understandably this is an area where the ongoing effects of the pandemic are felt. “Due to Covid, we’re not that close but generally everyone is pretty supportive and there’s little sense that it’s particularly cut-throat,” one mole says. But this isn’t a sentiment shared by everyone, with another rookie mentioning that, while generally people are “lovely”, there are some more “sneaky” outliers. Luckily, this appears to be beaten out of rookies quickly, with the partners being described as “very approachable and helpful”. “I think partner friendliness and approachability is absolutely the norm here, which I really value. I rarely come across people that aren’t approachable, and if I do, they have a reputation for it so I don’t take it personally!” one spy tells Legal Cheek.
Work/life balance is fairly good, according to our sources, but again is “very seat dependent” with “the usual suspects (corporate [and] banking)” coming with longer hours. “Amazing in most teams, pretty poor in others”, says one insider when questioned about their work/ life balance. But as another rookie puts it, “if you enjoy the work, the longer hours don’t bother you as much”. They also note that “if you have to work late because you have to get stuff done, people are usually very grateful and/or apologetic”. And we’ve heard this before about the firm ― last year, another Gowling newbie told Legal Cheek of their experiences: “I’ve had some late nights here and there, particularly in my first seat. I had a couple of 1am-2am finishes and one 5am finish. However, the team really cared about my wellbeing and made me go home early on the day after the 2am finish (despite my reluctance) and asked me to stay at home and sleep until the afternoon on the day after the 5am finish.”
Work/ life balance, it seems, varies according to office location as well as seat. If there’s a tension within the firm’s UK arm, it’s the different norms at the Birmingham and London offices (remember that as recently as 2014 these were different firms). Expect to work longer hours in the capital, although the upside to that is you’ll get paid significantly more (£92,000 as a London NQ, compared to £61,000 in Birmingham). That doesn’t mean London is top dog. Insiders warn against underestimating Gowling WLG’s Brummie branch, in which much management power lies. This is echoed in the respective size of the offices, with the Birmingham office reportedly being larger than its City counterpart.
Speaking of offices, both the Snow Hill Birmingham headquarters and the Thames-side London base prompt praise from the junior lawyers, with the premises in Brum impressing the most. The London trainees rave about the “lovely location” of their office, but are less happy about its interior: “The London office is very small and grotty.” The Birmingham hub, meanwhile, is “particularly impressive” and is described as being “one of the best offices” rookies have seen.
Of course, nowadays it’s not just about the firm’s office, but about their WFH approach too. While the firm was slow at first ― it reportedly took 18 months for WFH equipment to be sent to employees ― they have since greatly improved. The firm’s “flexible” approach sees trainees splitting their time 50/50 between the office and home, and new-starters now receive “laptops, phones, office chairs, laptop stands, mouse, keyboards and headsets for free via a third party supplier” upon joining (but as one rookie rightfully points out, “an office chair is no good without a desk but this was not an option to get”).
And for those looking to swap working from home to working from abroad, you’re in luck. There are plenty of opportunities for Gowling WLG’s UK trainees to travel — travel restrictions permitting, of course. About 20% of the firm’s rookies do an overseas stint in normal times when there are no pandemic interruptions, with the firm’s office in Guangzhou among the popular destinations. “The home of dim sum and China’s capital of industry” is apparently an “amazing” place to gain experience of working in China. Another popular secondment location is Dubai, where the firm opened an office in 2007. And while international secondments have reduced in light of the pandemic, client secondments have increased, with over a quarter of trainees surveyed having undertaken one. Locations included Oxfam, Barclays, and the Government Legal Department. Notably, the firm was a sponsor of the 2022 Commonwealth Games held in Birmingham, and one lucky rookie even had the opportunity of doing a secondment with the organiser of the Games!
The Commonwealth Games also cropped up when rookies were asked about perks. Tickets and other experiences were up for grabs, supplementing an otherwise “pretty non-existent” offering from the firm in this area. That sounds quite harsh ― the firm does provide perks, but they comprise the standard culprits of private health and dental care, subsidised gym membership and various retail discounts. On the social front, trainees feel a Birmingham/ London divide ― those in Brum enthuse about “opportunities such as playing football at Villa Park and many social events”, while London rookies cite a “lack of wellbeing facilities and socials for trainees”. As a whole, trainees reportedly have two parties a year hosted by the firm, but individual teams appear to be inconsistent with their social offerings. And the Birmingham trainees aren’t all happy: “Considering we have a Birmingham HQ, Birmingham Trainee Solicitor Society membership is not provided, so we have to pay ourselves if we want to mingle and network,” one insider complains.
Legal tech may be another area in which the firm is looking to improve. Its tech offering is currently “pretty basic”, and “some teams use it a lot more than others”. However, we are told that upgrades to the hardware offered by the firm are on the horizon, and the firm has also recently invested in AI and document automation software “which means some of the more mundane trainee tasks are performed more quickly, without sacrificing on quality”.