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Wragges in surprise union with mid-pack Canada firm to create 600-partner global player

There has been plenty of speculation about US and UK firms moving into Canada, but until now UK stalwart Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co (WLG) had not been high up the list of suitors in the profession’s mind. Nevertheless, WLG this week made the surprise announcement that it is to combine with the sizeable Canadian practice Gowlings in a move that will create a 622-partner law firm across 18 cities.

The move, which is billed as creating a Global 100 practice in revenue terms, is also by far the most ambitious international move by WLG and puts flesh on the UK firm’s stated plans to secure a string of tie-ups globally.

The combined firm, which will be branded as Gowling WLG, will launch in January 2016 and will be structured as a UK company limited by guarantee (CLG), with both profits and partnerships kept separate. The deal comes after Wragge & Co and Lawrence Graham merged on 1 May 2014.

The full service Ottawa-bred Gowlings had been through a series of domestic mergers to build a national network before launching in the UK in 2008. It has been previously linked speculatively as a potential partner for several other foreign law firms.

The firm will be governed by a joint CLG board with three representatives from each firm, including WLG chief executive David Fennell and Gowlings’ chief executive and chairman Scott Jolliffe. There will be an additional two representatives from both firms, although these positions have yet to be filled. WLG’s current chairman, Andrew Witts, will remain in his role for WLG offices in the UK, Europe and Asia.

Both firms have around 700 lawyers, which will bring the total combined headcount to 1,400. Though Gowlings does not officially release financial information, WLG said the tie-up would create a combined practice with revenues of over £400m. WLG in 2013/14 generated around £170m between its two legacy firms.

Speaking to Legal Business magazine, Fennell (pictured) said the combination was a result of a best-friend relationship that has spanned the last 20 years. ‘We have been talking more closely to Gowlings for the last six to 12 months. Both of us undertook strategic reviews in that period and both firms developed very similar strategies, which meant that Gowlings made absolutely perfect sense to us. The talks were led by senior management from both firms. Myself, Andrew Witts, Quentin Poole and Jenny Hardy on the Wragges side and Scott Jolliffe, Lorne Segal and Peter Lukasiewicz on the Gowlings side. We had a very strong endorsement from our partnership for this combination.’

The combination will hand WLG a presence in a host of Canadian cities, including Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as an office in Beijing, while the majority of Gowlings’ seven-partner London arm will join WLG at Four More London before January 2016.

There is also an intention to add more firms to Gowling WLG in the future, with Germany singled out by Fennell as a key priority. He added: ‘We are not in active talks with other firms at the moment. But it is our intention to continue to develop this combination further, so to that end we are interested in talking to other law firms particularly in those areas that our clients are telling us that are of most interest to them – Europe and Asia Pacific.’