Gowling WLG is the now well-established result of a 2016 merger between British firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co and Canadian giant Gowlings. The firm boasts deep roots in both Birmingham and London, through its 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. The firm have also opened a brand-new office in Leeds for their housing development team, giving them a trio of UK bases covering north to south.
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. New offices in Frankfurt and Abu Dhabi are a symbol of the firm’s plans to build its international brand, taking Gowling’s global offering to 21 offices across nine countries.
Rich history aside, Gowling WLG’s most recently available financial results show an average profit per equity partner (PEP) figure of roughly £420,000, while revenue sits at around the £200 million mark. Although its Canadian arm doesn’t formally publish its financials, its turnover is understood to be about £470 million.
The firm continues to act as a solid platform from which trainees can build their legal careers, with insiders finding: “a good mix of general training provided across the firm on broad topics and new developments in the market, as well as specific training provided when joining teams.” Rookies also report that “you get a good level of responsibility with teams who are keen to supervise and explain different concepts” and the trained supervisors are “genuinely motivated to help improve our skills and encourage learning, rather than just in using us as a tool to get work done quickly and/or cheaply.” One spy gives this thorough review of their experience so far: “Most teams have weekly compulsory training sessions, where we catch up on recent changes in the law and the things to be aware of, keeping our knowledge up to date. The level of responsibility we are given as trainees allows us to develop quickly professionally, as we take ownership for lots of tasks. I definitely think i have been moulded into a good lawyer by training at the firm.”
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”. Litigation and real estate were areas noted to contain more grunt work like bundling whilst corporate and commercial seats get the juicy stuff.
Trainees generally report a “friendly” culture at Gowling with a “lovely cohort” who regularly meet up outside of work. “The trainee intake is excellent – incredibly amenable and most people are friends, rather than competitors,” gushes one insider. On the partner level, there are a few superiors who trainees say they “actively stay clear of”, but many emphasise how approachable most are: “From associate to partner level, everyone in the teams I’ve worked in has been happy to take time to discuss everything from queries on work, through to what we got up to on the weekends,” 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, whilst real estate and pensions are said to offer a great balance. “Amazing in most teams, pretty poor in others”, summarises one insider. 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 do have to work late “it’s very much recognised as going the extra mile by superiors, as opposed to doing the bare minimum.”. Generally, the hours are reasonable: “I’ve had one week of particularly late nights (2am on a Friday was rough) but otherwise, the hours are absolutely fine and to be expected for a city firm. 8:15-8:30 starts and 18:30-19:00 o’clock finishes most days”, another Gowling newbie told.
Work/life balance, it seems, varies according to office location as well as seat. 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 the regions). 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,” particularly the basement changing rooms. The Birmingham hub, meanwhile, is “particularly impressive” and is described as being “one of the best offices” rookies have seen.
Gowling operates a 50/50 WFH policy, only requiring trainees to be in the office 50% of the time in the month, with ‘anchor days’ encouraging whole departments to come in occasion. For many, this appears to be a goldilocks policy with the consensus being that “the firm seems to have struck the balance just right” when it comes to WFH. New starters also receive a budget for home-working equipment which “does the job”, though some feel it could stretch further.
For those looking to swap working from home to working from abroad, you’re in luck. Opportunities for Gowling WLG’s UK trainees to travel to far-flung destinations are slowly returning, with trainees jetting-off to Brazil and Dubai, where the firm opened an office in 2007. Closer to home, there are even more opportunities for client secondments with over a fifth of trainees surveyed having done one. Locations included Oxfam, Ford, 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”. And trainees are particularly irked at the loss of the cross-office annual party, which has failed to make a return after the pandemic.
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”. A new technology seat will also be offered for Gowling trainees who will be given the opportunity to split their time between the innovation team and an AI start-up.