Gowling WLG is the now pretty well-established result of a 2016 tie-up 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 elite firm — 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 recent legal sector mega-combinations, the North American and UK elements of Gowling WLG have been structured as separate entities, which may explain why in Britain the firm still feels very much like Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co with added international offices.
But work has begun to shape the firm as more exclusively focused on global corporate work, as seen with last year’s transfer of Gowling WLG’s UK private client business to Forsters. In the short term this has hit UK revenue and profitability slightly — with turnover falling by 5% this year to £179.9 million and profit per equity partner (PEP) dipping by 6% to £373,000. With Gowling WLG’s wider global firm revenue increasing by 17%, the firm clearly has enough going on to offset this transition.
Other signs of greater integration include the increase in international secondments being offered to UK trainees. According to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019–20, 15% of Gowling WLG rookies did one this year (double last year’s figure), with several heading to the firm’s office in Guangzhou. “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 destination is Dubai. Meanwhile, some rookies have also travelled to the firm’s offices in Canada.
Back in the UK, Gowling WLG continues to have a good reputation for offering a solid grounding to one’s career, decent quality work and being generally pleasant places to be employed.
That lives on in A-grade training and quality of work. One current trainee summarises the vibe: “The work I have received has been of a really good quality, there can be a lot of responsibility early on and plenty of client contact. Typical tasks I’ve been asked to do are drafting documents (e.g. front-end/specifics of disclosure letters, title reports, appointments), participating in and contributing to conference calls and liaising with clients to keep them updated on matters. In addition, the firm has a number of support teams and trainees are encouraged to use these where possible so to minimise the time spent on admin tasks.”
New joiners can expect a structured learning experience, with specific training sessions run for the junior members of the team that are organised by senior associates. This is supplemented by informal feedback from partners.
Fellow trainees and juniors are largely “collegiate”, while partners are at the “friendly” end of the corporate law boss spectrum. “Three of my supervisors are from heaven, one wasn’t,” an anonymous rookie tells us.
Work/life balance is pretty good, if variable. As one trainee puts it: “Varies from team to team but eight times out of ten 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 and litigation are apparently more chilled out than other teams, with 6pm finishes not uncommon, but even in corporate don’t expect more than occasional midnight finishes and weekend working. The average leave the office time is before 7pm.
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 gaffe are rated A* in the Legal Cheek Survey 2019–20, with insiders describing them as “beautiful”. “The views over London Bridge!” gushes one trainee, while Birmingham is apparently “so good that it has ruined all other offices for me”.
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”. We’re told that the new “omelette bar” is a favourite. The only criticism is that the canteens close at 4pm, so not much help for those working late.
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.
A slight gripe at the moment is pay — which is at the lower end of the top City law firm market in London — but at least this year there has been a push to improve the perks. Staples, such as health insurance, free event tickets, and cycle subsidy schemes, have been augmented with a push from HR to have more trainee and apprentice-based social activities across London and Birmingham. The result has been a more lavish spring party arranged by the Trainee Committee and various karaoke and bowling evenings.
On the tech side, everyone has been given new iPhones and dual monitors for their desks. The firm is now in the process of upgrading the laptops. There are also ample experiments taking place with AI software and document automation. Indeed so serious is Gowling WLG about tech that it recently launched a new app-based incentive scheme to educate staff on blockchain via coffee tokens.