There's a growing consensus that junior corporate lawyers are overpaid, with a recent (paywalled) survey by Legal Week finding that 54% of partners at the big corporate firms believe associates earn too much.
In case you weren’t aware, a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor at a mid-tier City law firm earns around £60,000. At the other end of the profession, NQs at legal aid firms scrape by on less than £20,000.
On the same day as that Legal Week survey was published, news broke of a temporary work scheme being launched by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer which will see 3,500 of the firm’s former lawyers called upon to help out when things get unusually busy. It has been dubbed 'Freshfields Continuum'.
The scheme is broadly similar to temp-lawyer initiatives run by Berwin Leighton Paisner and Axiom. In a market where work flows are relatively low, and many expect more job cuts, such schemes are a useful resource to call upon, but nothing more.
When, though, we finally get a proper recovery – and demand for lawyers surges again – temp lawyer schemes could have a big effect on firms' staffing.
And it's not going to be a good one for junior corporate lawyers...
During the booming early and mid 2000s, when 'Freshfields Continuum'-style schemes didn't exist, the only way ultra-busy firms could get enough lawyers to man their engine rooms was to pay them more than their rivals. A salary war ensued – and was documented in meticulous detail on a now defunct message board called 'Greedy Associates' – taking average NQ salaries from around the £30,000 mark to their current levels.
This time around, with armies of pensioners ready to ride to firms' rescue, wage inflation will be less likely to happen. Expect to see many more of these schemes. It seems that firms have learned their lesson.