Gowling WLG (UK) LLP - True Picture

The union of Gowlings and Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co created a newly international firm, but that’s not the end of the story…

Groovy, baby

It’s safe to say that a mixed Canadian and British heritage tends to produce great results. Mike Myers, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiefer Sutherland… not to mention the internet’s favourite age-defying enigma Keanu Reeves. 2016 saw the birth of another great British-Canadian fusion as the UK’s Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co joined forces with Canadian firm Gowlings to create Gowling WLG.

Training principal Samantha Holland lays out the timeline: “We’re a few years on from our combination with Canada and we’re starting to really see opportunities coming out of it. We have associates working in the Canada offices and there are opportunities for trainees to do overseas seats in China and Dubai; there will likely be more of those in future.” Gowling WLG has a total of 18 offices across nine countries and seems to be on the hunt to add to that: Holland declares the firm is “always looking for opportunities for international growth.” Trainees highlighted a focus on Germany and South-East Asia in particular and reckoned the firm may be “exploring tie-ups and best friend relationships with other firms.”

“We’re a few years on from our combination with Canada and we’re starting to really see opportunities coming out of it.”

Legacy UK firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co was itself created via the merger of a Birmingham and a London outfit. Both offices house trainees – roughly a third are in the capital, while the majority are in Birmingham. Brummy sources pointed out: “There aren’t a lot of international law firms in Birmingham, that’s why Gowling stood out when I was applying.” Along with the firm’s global presence, trainees were drawn to the idea that they could “get a broad training contract because of its full-service practice.” ‘Broad’ is a fair word to describe the firm’s Chambers UK rankings – it’s considered a national leader outside London in corporate M&A, employment, IT, IP, litigation, pensions and real estate. Real estate was the largest practice group in Gowling’s legacy UK firms, and the fact that the present-day firm is “so well known for real estate” was another big draw.

Trainees must complete one contentious seat, one non-contentious seat and one real estate seat plus an ‘option’ seat which “can be anything.” Everybody makes their choices at the beginning of each seat rotation. “It’s quite a clear process,” sources reckoned. “They trialled an algorithm to allocate seats, but it wasn’t popular so they went back to the old method.”

Layers! Trainees have layers

Commercial development and investment is one of the larger property teams in the firm. There are numerous subdivisions within the practice that are “all segregated from one another.” Property funds and asset managers call on Gowling’s expertise – St. Modwen Properties required it for the £53.6 million sale of Longbridge Shopping Park in Birmingham. The team also advised the government of an unnamed Commonwealth country on the refurbishment of its High Commission and temporary relocation elsewhere. Trainees saw “a lot of leases for commercial properties like hotels, offices and warehouses” during their time in the department. On the investment side, the team were often “working for institutional investors, buying and selling portfolios of properties” – eagle-eyed interviewees noticed a trend of “clients trying to get rid of retail assets and going for industrial assets instead” recently. Trainees here end up “pretty much running your own matters like leases, licences or smaller sales.” Examples could include leases for shopping centres or estates. Sources described this early responsibility as quite a “baptism of fire,” but on bigger matters their role takes on a more ancillary nature for Land Registry applications and post-completion administration. Overall, sources handled “a nice mix” of tasks and deal types.

Our interviewees did less on the development side of the practice because “work there can be quite complex. It tends to go higher up the food chain.” Gowling recently advised the Hut Group on its £750 million deal to develop a million square feet of office and studio space in the Manchester Airport area; they also advised aerospace company Meggitt on the £130 million acquisition and development of its proposed new supersite in Coventry. “Development is all about buying land with the view to building on it, letting it out or selling it on,” a source explained. “As a trainee you’re not going to be in charge of high-value transactions, but you can play a role.”

“...getting involved in a lot of cross-border matters from the beginning.”

The corporate department covers a range of standard M&A, private equity and capital markets work. “The focus is fairly mid-market,” trainees noted. Cross-border deals for Canadian and US companies are among Gowling’s strengths and the firm has numerous top private equity clients on its books. In London it advised Cairngorm Capital on the acquisitions of industrial equipment supplier MJ Wilson and cutting tools specialist Helix Tools. Interviewees found that day to day they were “drafting ancillary documents for acquisitions” and “working on completions” at the tail-end of deals. One also mentioned getting stuck into “some small equity fundraising, and all the documentation involved in that.” On the capital markets side, the Birmingham team acted for games publisher Codemasters on its pre-AIM IPO reorganisation. Overall, trainees felt that “because corporate matters tend to be bigger, you tend to be a smaller cog in the machine.” That said, one noticed that “towards the end of the seat I was getting more responsibility within the main transactions.”

Banking and finance at Gowling includes restructuring and insolvency as well as general banking, acquisition finance and refinancings: “We act for major clearing banks but also borrowers.” BNP Paribas, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and the State Bank of India appear on the client roster. Trainees found the department particularly international in nature and recalled “getting involved in a lot of cross-border matters from the beginning – one of my first matters was working with a big private equity firm in the US.” There’s a fair amount of cross-departmental networking as well: “We’d get a deal across from the corporate team. Say they’re doing an acquisition but funds are required – we’d step in to help with the banking documents.” The firm advised Santander on banking facilities connected to a £10 million management buyout of database and data platforms services provider DSP. Common trainees tasks include dealing with corporate authorisations and board minutes, plus company investigation and reports. Our insiders were also able to attend client meetings and liaise with counterparties; one added that “towards the end of the seat there were more chances to draft deeds and more complicated documents.”

The law guru

Trainees can do a split seat in employment and pensions. Gowling handlesboth contentious and non-contentious pensions matters and the team acts for trustees as well as employers. Trainees dealt with “lots of the key documents involved in setting up a pensions scheme. You get to know the differences between defined benefit and contribution schemes and come across a lot that you wouldn’t find anywhere else, it’s really interesting.” The firm was recently reappointed to the Pension Protection Fund’s panel of legal advisers, providing assistance on a range of different matters.

As for employment, the firm mostly acts for employers rather than employees. Clients come to Gowling with queries about “redundancy processes, unfair dismissals or terminations, and even discrimination cases. We always advise on how clients can mitigate these.” Morgan Motors, Cathay Pacific and the London Borough of Croydon are just a handful of the names on Gowling’s books. In addition to advisory work, there’s also a litigious element on offer: “You can do High Court trials or employment tribunals. They’re high-pressure but really interesting.” Trainees typically spend their days in the department “dealing with client queries, doing all the research and drafting the responses” as well as “getting involved with disclosure and preparing for hearings.” Sources reckoned the responsibility “wasn’t as high” as other seats but understood that “employment law is always changing. I can see why everything needs to be signed off.”

“There’s very much a team atmosphere.”

Gowling’s IP practice balances a mix of hard and soft intellectual property. The firm represents Dyson and Weetabix on a global scale, and recently handled a dispute for GlaxoSmithKline surrounding technology for making very fine powder to use in inhaler products. One source recalled quickly getting stuck into “a huge tech patent case. It was really starting to ramp up – I worked on that from expert reports straight through to the trial itself.” Other tasks for new arrivals include litigation rites of passage like preparing bundles and disclosure. When deadlines approach, interviewees confirmed: “There’s very much a team atmosphere. We had a huge disclosure deadline and I was sat next to associates and partners alike, all sorting through and finalising documents.”

The firm has two long-standing international secondment opportunities. One is a corporate and commercial-focused Dubai seat; the other an IP-oriented stint in Guangzhou in China. “Moving to the other side of the world is a bit of a shock to the system but the firm has been really supportive,” secondees emphasised. “There’s an appetite for more options among trainees as the firm has grown.” Gowling also runs multiple client secondment options.

Party on, Gowling

A handful of exceptions aside, trainees in most of Gowling’s departments found their hours “incredibly reasonable.” For instance, in most real estate seats they found “the floor was completely empty by 7pm.” Sources noted that “when there are big projects on you stay longer, but that’s never later than 9pm.” Seats like corporate, real estate finance and banking were more of a “rollercoaster of different hours. During quiet periods you can leave on time but then there are crazy periods: I left after 2am a few times.” If you do end up staying late, the firm will provide food and a taxi home. “If you’re not busy, you’re not expected to stay,” sources concluded.

“I think it’s got a good balance of high-quality work that you’d want from a large international firm, but without the ruthless culture that tends to come with that,” reflected trainees when weighing up the culture at Gowling. Others described the firm as “very cohesive and personal, everyone seems to get on very well with each other and people are willing to give you advice if you need it.” This rang true for Birmingham and London trainees alike – other than a “tongue-in-cheek friendly rivalry between the offices,” sources on both sides of the M25 generally agreed that “London and Birmingham are pretty well integrated. The firm sets itself out as dual-headquartered and I would say that’s true in practice.” Some pointed out that “certain teams like real estate are so big in Birmingham that you rarely end up interacting with anyone in London,” but trainees all mentioned working cross-office at several points during their training contracts. One small gripe on the part of Londoners was that “there isn’t a permanent HR or graduate recruitment presence in this office.” Trainees noted that the firm’s team does try to come down to visit as much as possible, but reckoned a permanent posting in the capital could help alleviate concerns.

“The firm sets itself out as dual-headquartered and I would say that’s true.”

Cohesion between offices extends to the social side of things: “There are biannual trainee parties, one in London and one in Birmingham. If you’re in London the firm will pay to send you over to Birmingham for the night and vice versa.” There’s also an annual firm-wide party, usually held at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, which is open to the firm’s European offices as well. “It’s always really nice, last year it was 80s-themed,” a source said. “There was an open bar, a spread of food and rides like bumper cars and a helter-skelter.” Future trainees are also invited to share in the fun.

The qualification process kicks off around springtime: HR chats with trainees to discuss what teams they’d like to qualify into. A list of NQ roles comes out a few weeks later. Trainees have a couple of days to apply for jobs, which they admitted “might seem like a lot of time if you know what you want. However, if you don’t there isn’t much of an opportunity to have the discussions you need to with partners.” Some departments interview applicants before they formally let trainees know whether they have the job. Gowling retained 20 out of 25 qualifiers in 2019.

If you’re a novice to pensions law, the firm produced a “Pensions in 30 Podcasts” series that’s available in full on its website.

How to get into Gowling WLG


Training contract deadline (2022): TBC

Vacation scheme deadline (2020): 31 January 2020


Gowling WLG (UK) LLP

Two Snowhill,
B4 6WR
Website www,gowlingwlg.com

  • Partners: 131
  • Total trainees: 50
  • UK offices: London, Birmingham
  • Overseas offices: 17
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Lucy Dolan, Early Talent Manager [email protected]
  • Training partner: Samantha Holland, [email protected]
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 25
  • Vacation scheme places pa: 40
  • Dates and deadlines 
  •  Vacation scheme applications open:Autumn
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31st January 2020
  • Salary and benefits  
  • First-year salary: Birmingham £28,000; London £40,500
  • Second-year salary: Birmingham £31,000; London £44,000 Post-qualification salary: Birmingham £44,000; London £71,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £5,500 for Birmingham; £7,000 for London
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London and Birmingham
  • Overseas seats: Guangzhou, Dubai
  • Client secondments: Yes

Firm profile
We’re a leading sector-focused international law firm. But we’re different. What sets us apart is a growing reputation for client experience, outstanding people and creative energy. You’ll find us in Canada, Europe, Middle East, Asia and the UK, focused on key global sectors including real estate, energy, financial services, life sciences, natural resources, infrastructure and technology. We’re a firm with momentum, making bold moves in the international legal market, where we’ve significantly increased our footprint and capability. And we have an appetite for further international growth.

Main areas of work
Our areas of expertise include: real estate, corporate, dispute resolution, banking and finance, employment, pensions, tax, EU trade and competition, public law and regulatory, corporate recovery and insolvency, intellectual property, IT, projects, outsourcing and general commercial.

Training opportunities
Treated as a lawyer from day one, you’ll enjoy early responsibility, international opportunities and exposure to big-ticket work as you learn from legal experts across the globe. Our training contracts consist of four six-month seats and we’ll get you started with a full and comprehensive induction, designed to help you settle into life here. Choosing from our broad ranging practice areas, your programme will typically include a contentious seat, a non-contentious seat, real estate and an optional seat (which could be an international secondment or working for a client). You’ll get deeply involved in interesting casework for an exceptional scope of clients, enjoying top tier training in a high performing, hugely encouraging culture. It’ll be a continuous learning journey with one-to-one guidance from a partner mentor, a dedicated supervisor, the graduate recruitment team and, of course, the strong support network of legal experts all around you. Vacation scheme We run vacation schemes at our London and Birmingham offices, during spring and summer. You’ll experience life at an international law firm first-hand, meet our people and clients, and gain an insight into our work and culture. One of our current trainees will help you settle in and is on hand to answer any queries you may have. You’ll have a dedicated supervisor who will ensure you receive quality work, support and constructive feedback. There will also be plenty of social events to help you network and build up professional relationships (while enjoying yourself too, of course).

Other benefits
• LPC/GDL fees paid in full
• Maintenance grants
• 25 days’ holiday per annum (plus option to purchase holiday)
• Private medical insurance
• Travel loan scheme
• Pension scheme
• Life assurance
• Income Protection Insurance
• Cycle to work scheme
• An active social club
• Access to corporate rates and discounts
• Employee assistance programme
[email protected] – Virtual GP

University law careers fairs 2019
This year we will be attending Bristol, Leicester, York, Leeds, Nottingham, UCL, Birmingham, Exeter, Durham, Warwick, as well as the National Law Fair at the University of Law and Law Careers.Net Live.

Social Media
Twitter: Gowlingtrainees
Facebook: gowlingwlgtrainees

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 5)
    • Information Technology (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 3)
    • Planning (Band 4)
    • Real Estate Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 5)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 2)
    • Pensions (Band 1)
    • Planning (Band 1)
    • Real Estate Litigation (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Employment (Band 1)
    • Information Technology (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 3)
    • Pensions (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Competition Law (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: AIM (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Mining Recognised Practitioner
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 3)
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Closed-ended Listed Funds (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 3)
    • Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Advertising & Marketing (Band 4)
    • Pensions Litigation (Band 2)
    • Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 4)
    • Public Procurement (Band 3)
    • Retail (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market and Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Social Housing (Band 2)