Why are Scottish lawyers paid so much less than English ones?

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By Judge John Hack on

Scotland may be on the brink of independence, but regardless of the referendum result, English law firms are likely to carry on doling out inferior pay to their trainees and newly-qualified lawyers north of the border


Legal Cheek analysis conducted this week shows that at least four English and transatlantic players with a Scottish foothold pay their young lawyers in Edinburgh much less than their counterparts in the English regions — despite the cost of living in Scotland’s capital being considerably higher.

Most striking is the disparity at London-based global franchise CMS Cameron McKenna. First-year trainees at the firm’s Bristol office are paid a whacking 42% more than their counterparts slaving away in Edinburgh’s Saltire Court (the firm also has offices in Glasgow and Aberdeen).

Likewise, those qualifying at CMS in Bristol will earn 16% more than those worker-bees kept on after training in Scotland.

In cold hard cash, that means that first-year trainees in Bristol earn £32,000, while their peers in Scotland pick up only £22,500. Newly-qualified CMS solicitors in the south-west of England will start on £44,000, while those in Edinburgh will be on £38,000.

Those disparities fall against a backdrop of cost of living figures showing that Bristol is a 9% cheaper city in which to live than the home of the splendid Royal Mile.

CMS is hardly the only firm to penalise its Scottish trainees and newly-qualified solicitors despite the cost of living being more expensive in Edinburgh than it is in Leeds and Manchester as well as Bristol. Indeed, of the major English legal centres outside London, the only city dearer than the Scottish capital is Birmingham.

Pinsent Masons pays its first-year trainees in the English regions 24.5% more than those in Scotland — £25,500 compared to £20,500. While the firm’s newly-qualified solicitors in the English regions pick up salaries 12% higher than those in Scotland — £38,000 compared with £34,000.

The disparity at transatlantic global giant DLA Piper is narrower but still noticeable. First-year trainees at the firm’s office in the English regions are paid 15% more than those in Scotland — £26,500 compared with £23,000. While English regional newly-qualified solicitors at DLA Piper are on 12% more than their Scottish counterparts — £38,500 compared with £34,000.

National firm DWF did not provide figures for its first-year trainees. However, the firm pays its newly-qualified lawyers in Newcastle 12.5% more than those in Scotland, while those in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham are on 15.5% more wedge than their Scottish counterparts.

And while a significant disparity between pay rates in London and Edinburgh is to be expected, the gaps are nonetheless considerably greater than the cost-of-living variance.

For example, while website Expatistan.com maintains that living in London is 47% more expensive than life in the Scottish capital, DLA Piper pays its first-year trainees in London 68% more than those in Edinburgh. And the gap widens even more on qualification — NQs in London bag 76.5% more wonga than their poor Scottish cousins.

Pinsent Masons’ London-Edinburgh figures are almost identical to DLA’s. While at CMS the disparity between London and Scotland first-year trainees is in line with those two firms, it slightly narrows the gap — down to 59% — in relation to newly-qualifieds.

DWF managing partner and chief executive Andrew Leaitherland told Legal Cheek that his firm was in the process of reviewing salary levels for its newly-qualified solicitors. He said the firm aimed:

“to ensure that those salaries reflect the local market conditions and are in line with other legal businesses because that’s critical if we’re going to continue to attract and retain the best talent to support our strategic growth plans for Scotland”.

Leaitherland went on to say:

“Over the last 12 months we’ve made significant investments in our people, including the launch of the DWF Academy to encourage learning and development across the business; a new framework to more equitably and transparently recognise and reward people; and the launch of a new bonus scheme and these have helped us get independently recognised as one of the top two UK law firms for employee satisfaction”.

A spokesperson for Pinsent Masons said that the firm routinely benchmarks its remuneration and benefits package against the market and gives Scottish lawyers “unparalleled opportunities to undertake high-profile, cutting-edge work in the UK and internationally with fantastic clients”.

DLA Piper said that its analysis showed that the firm was paying above the market rate in Scotland for first-year trainees and newly-qualified solicitors.

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