Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wragge & Co - Legalweek

Unquestionably the Midlands' best law firm (snobbish aspiring City lawyers should remember that Birmingham has been a surprisingly competitive and influential legal market over the last 15 years), Wragge & Co cuts an imposing figure on the national legal market. Despite drifting increasingly into London since its 2000 City launch, Wragges is also still regarded by many as the poster boy for ambitious yet regionally-driven law firms.
That said, not everything has gone to plan in recent years. Profitability growth has lagged its peer group and the breadth of its practice group has arguably lacked focus. Likewise, the shift from regional titan to aspiring London player has not been without growing pains or the odd strategic contortion. With the firm having wrestled with the inevitably tricky London growth issue, Wragges should be well-placed to shift back into high gear.
In April 2008 the firm announced that it had signed a deal to move into new premises in Birmingham in 2011, expanding its office space in the city from 170,000 sq ft to around 250,000, signalling that the firm intends to continue growing in its original heartlands for a while yet.
However, in September 2008 the firm was hit by the effects of the crunch when it was forced into a redundancy consultation, with 30 fee earner jobs under review.
Legal Week's 2008-09 UK top 50 saw the firm ranked 25th by revenue, taking in £105.8m, while partner profits fell to £292,000.
A genuinely progressive firm that was investing in areas like IT and support staff well ahead of many comparable City firms, let alone regional rivals. The firm also has a reputation for supporting its staff.
Key departments
A very broad practice. Against regional rivals the firm competes effectively in a very wide range of disciplines. Property and outsourcing have been particularly prominent recently. However, there has been some surprise in recent years that the firm's respected corporate practice has not been more visible.
Structurally, the firm is divided into five core groups - real estate; human resources; dispute resolution; finance, projects and technology; and corporate.
National/international coverage
Time will tell whether Wragges goes further down the international route but thus far its overseas operations are limited to an outpost in Brussels and a fledgling Hong Kong office, the latter having been launched at the start of 2007. IP chief Gordon Harris heads up the firm's Far East business from his base in the UK.
Elsewhere, Wragges operates a formal alliance with independent German firm Graf von Westphalen, having signed a deal with the 150-lawyer outfit in 2003. Graf operates offices throughout all the major economic and legal centres in Germany, as well as offices in Brussels, Vienna and Alicante.
Key clients
The client base is exceptional in terms of boasting a wide range of bluechip names - clients like BP, BT, 3i and GlaxoSmithKline. However, there has been an internal issue of the firm failing to convert some of its trophy clients into actual work-flow. Because of the breadth of the practice, the firm is certainly diversified.
Leading partners
There are a lot of good partners across departments but Ian Metcalfe in corporate, private equity head Maurice Dwyer and Adrian Bland in real estate would be viewed as stand-out names. High-profile senior partner Quentin Poole (pictured below right) is one of the UK's least dull law firm leaders.
Career prospects
In 2009 the firm promoted just one associate to its all-equity partnership, a steep drop on the previous year's figure of nine. Wragges also operates a 'director' rank, with eight lawyers getting the nod in the summer 2007 round.
It was reported in July 2008 that Wragges raised its City NQ rate by £1,000 to £63,000 and similar increases in Birmingham saw pay rise to £41,000 from £40,000 - an increase of 1.6% and 2.5% respectively.
For more information on trainee recruitment at Wragges (presented in a fairly trendy way, by law firm standards) click here.
Work-life balance
The firm's cuddly rep has taken a few knocks in recent years as Wragges has positioned itself (probably rightly) as a slightly more hard-edged business. However, judged against its peer group, Wragges would still be regarded as a progressive and imaginative employer.
In April 2008 the firm again put work-life balance at the top of the agenda after unveiling an ultra-liberal flexi working scheme for all its staff - who don't have to explain to the firm precisely why they want to work the hours they do.
Better than average for women and ethnic minorities - perhaps surprisingly, since Wragges' partnership is pretty public school-heavy.
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