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.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Gowling WLG’s UK trainees to travel — pandemic permitting, of course. According to the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2020-21, nearly 20% of the firm’s rookies did one this year, with several heading to the firm’s offices in Guangzhou pre-lockdown. “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, 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 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The firm continues to act as a solid platform from which trainees can build their legal careers, with one insider describing the training as “technically excellent and personable in equal measure”. We do, however, receive reports that it can sometimes vary from seat-to-seat. “Special shout-out to the employment team”, another survey respondent tells us, “who provided comprehensive training at the start of the seat along with a mammoth folder covering almost everything under the sun.”
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”, while making use of the support teams for those less stimulating printing and scanning tasks. This, one rookie explains, “reduces the amount of admin trainees have to undertake in favour of getting stuck into more interesting, fee earning work.” Like with the training, however, the quality of work can vary between departments. “I was really challenged in real estate and was given sale agreements to draft”, one spy reports. “The same cannot be said for litigation.”
Trainees reported a nice vibe in this year’s “super close” cohort. “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 “extremely approachable”. Another junior tells us this: “I have never felt there to be any barriers due to any hierarchy and I have never worried about asking questions that may be a bit basic. Everyone has been really friendly, encouraging and supportive. It helps that our offices are open plan and partners have the same desks as everyone else — we have no need for an ‘open door’ policy because there literally are no doors!”
Work/life balance is pretty reasonable “unless you have a seat in one of the usual suspects (corporate [and] banking)”, one source tells us. “On the whole, not unreasonable for a large corporate/commercial firm,” another adds. 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 transition to home-working in response to the lockdown went “really well”, according to one junior — occasional “IT hiccup” aside. Great pastoral support and regular communication between team members helped keep those work-from-home blues at bay, we are told. The only gripe reported was the firm apparently taking around “three months to offer financial assistance to those who had to purchase home-working equipment”. As for the tech, 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”.
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. “I like the views from our 8th floor looking out to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London”, 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”. Further, there are reports the firm is offering its lawyers “a discount concierge hub”. Fancy.