Meet Gowling WLG at the Legal Cheek UK Virtual Law Fair on 4 November 2021
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.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Gowling WLG’s UK trainees to travel — travel restrictions permitting, of course. Around 20% of the firm’s rookies do one in normal times when there’s not a pandemic on, 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. There are also a few client secondments up for grabs, with locations including Transport for London, Barclays and the Government Legal Department.
The firm continues to act as a solid platform from which trainees can build their legal careers, with one insider describing the training as “quite good” with “bi-weekly training sessions” and regular exposure “to tasks of varying degrees of difficulty that stretch us where necessary”. Another rookie, who commenced their TC during lockdown, tells us this:
“Starting as a new trainee from home was always going to be a challenging experience. The traditional learning via osmosis is not able to happen but the firm have reacted and put into place a number of strategies to ensure the quality of our training is not impacted. My teams have been very good at welcoming and ensuring we are made to feel part of the team with regular check-ups from supervisors. The only thing I would say is there have been occasions when working from home you can feel a bit isolated or do not get that team feeling, however being able to go into the office now, once a week for me, has helped alleviate that issue.”
The quality of work seems equally good. We are told trainees are “encouraged to take on responsibility and to run their own matters where possible”, with smaller teams offering “more responsibility”. 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 report a nice “supportive vibe” despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. “I genuinely don’t think we would have got through working from home during lockdown without each other!” one rookie says. This supportiveness continues up the ranks, according to respondents, with partners said to be “super friendly” and “always willing to talk”. Another junior tells us this: “Most partners are very approachable and this is fed down through the ranks. If you are keen and enthusiastic, people are willing to share their time and knowledge with you. At times it can be hard to reach people as no one is regularly working in the office but this is nothing a bit of creativity or planning can’t solve.”
Work/life balance is fairly good, according to our sources, but can vary between seats with “the usual suspects (corporate [and] banking)” coming with longer hours. “There are occasions where you have to work later,” one rookie tell us. “I have had one midnight finish so far but this is the rarity opposed to the norm.” A third trainee offers this more detailed dispatch from the frontline: “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.”
The mention of home-working prompts a few grumbles, with the firm providing a “small grant” that was said to be “not sufficient to buy the equipment needed for a good working from home set-up”. One insider also laments the firm’s IT system which “has been quite poor at times and struggles to keep up with the number of users”. On a more positive note, we’re told the firm has 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”.
Remote working — in some shape or form — looks set to stay. The firm has introduced a raft of new flexible working measures, including the option for lawyers and staff to work from home for up to 50% of their time.
Gowling WLG has some of the most impressive law firm offices in the UK — both the Snow Hill Birmingham headquarters and the Thames-side London base, with insiders praising their spacious layouts which offer plenty of breakout spaces and natural light. “Awesome view over Tower Bridge!”, a City-based rookie enthuses.
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. But insiders warn against underestimating Gowling WLG’s Brummie branch, in which much management power lies.
On the perks front, trainees can take advantage of subsidised gym memberships, travel loans, cycle to work schemes, as well as the firm’s social club — staff pay £2 a month to be a member — which provides access to “really good discounted theatre tickets”.