Wragges seals Gowlings tie-up to create Anglo-Canadian powerhouse

Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co has confirmed plans to merge with Canada’s Gowlings less than 18 months after the tie-up between Wragge & Co and Lawrence Graham.

The merged firm, called Gowling WLG, will have more than 1,400 lawyers and legal professionals operating from 18 locations. The deal will go live in January 2016 and the merged firm will have offices in Canada, the UK, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The combined firm is expected to have turnover of over £400m.

This merger comes 18 months after Wragge & Co and Lawrence Graham created a £170m firm under the brand Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co (11 December 2013). According to Wragges CEO David Fennell, the firms had been talking “seriously for the last 12-18 months”.

“For me the most important thing about combining with Gowlings is that there is a common strategy,” he said. “Both of us undertook strategic reviews last year and we both came to the conclusion to build an international firm.”

This news comes two years after Gowlings began to look at mergers for international expansion (3 February 2013). At the time, Gowlings CEO Scott Joliffe denied rumours that Gowlings was discussing a merger with DLA Piper, saying that the firms had never been in talks. Jolliffe added that it was widely discussed among firms in Canada that DLA Piper was interested in the country.

The management of the new firm will see Fennell on an international board alongside Jolliffe and two other members from each of the firms. Neither of the CEOs expect to change their job titles following the merger.

According to the firm, there are plans to “build on these foundations, adding other firms to strengthen its sector and practice capabilities in strategically important regions”.

“We don’t have any plans to do anything in the US,” Fennell said. “The reason for that is that we’ve both got long established relationships with firms in the US. We don’t think that we would find a package that would match that.”

Gowlings has had an office in London since 2008, and went on a recruitment drive in the years that followed. In 2011, for example, the City base hired a general counsel from British energy (1 October 2010), Unilever (8 April 2011), a former Norton Rose partner (6 October 2011) and a partner from Simmons & Simmons (10 November 2010).

Two years ago, Gowlings has lost a two-partner IP team to the City office of US firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman (30 August 2013), while Gowlings’ former head of energy and infrastructure David Shasha joined Watson Farley & Williams as a senior consultant (7 January 2014). 

The firm currently has seven partners in London, led by managing partner Mark Ledwell.

In London the majority of the Gowlings team will move to Wragges’ office following the merger.

“That’s great news because that brings across a great AIM practice,” Fennell explained. 

Ledwell is expected to manage the transition, although his role at the merged firm has not been confirmed.

In Moscow, which is the only other office that overlaps between the two firms, the integration plan is not as clear.

“We’ve got different practices in Moscow,” Fennell explained. “Gowlings has Russia’s leading IP practice. We have a broader practice energy natural resources, government relations. We’ll speak to clients.”

The name of the new firm will see Wragges’ name reduced to an acronym.

“We think that that combines the best of the two founding firms,” Fennell said. “We took expert advice with the pronounciation factors. It made sense to go for something shorter. There is work to do on branding more generally. We will co-create a brand. There is a lot more behind the name that needs to be done.”

Wragges is the latest in a string of UK firms to merge with a Canadian practice. Norton Rose Fulbright merged with Ogilvy Renault in 2011 (15 November 2010).

Since then, Clyde & Co signed an agreement with insurance firm Nicholl Paskell-Mede (7 March 2011) and legacy SNR Denton carried out a merger with Fraser Milner Casgrain (8 November 2012).

Earlier this year DLA Piper agreed a merger with local firm Davis (2 March 2015).