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US firm Sidley Austin hikes London NQ pay from £75k to £90k as English firms offer small rises

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Michelle Obama’s old firm soars away from City mid-tier in pay stakes

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The London office of Chicago headquartered global mega firm Sidley Austin has increased its newly qualified (NQ) pay by a whopping 20%.

The huge hike from £75,000 to £90,000 comes as a host of mid-tier English City firms announced rather less generous salary rises. Osborne Clarke has edged up its NQ pay from £60,000 to £62,500, while Stephenson Harwood has gone from £60,000 to £62,000 and Watson Farley & Williams from £62,000 to £65,000.

Sidley Austin — which is famous for being the firm where President Obama met his wife while she supervised him during a vac scheme — only takes on ten trainees a year in London. But its NQ pay rise is significant because it is part of a wider movement among US firms in the UK to boost pay at a far greater rate than their English rivals.

Indeed, when announcing the news, the chair of the Sidley’s grandly-titled “associate compensation committee”, David Howe, emphasised that the rise is “set against the backdrop of increases in the market generally”.

Other American firms to have upped London NQ pay recently include Shearman & Sterling (where NQ pay now stands at £88,000), White & Case (NQ salary: £90,000) and Sullivan & Cromwell (leading the market with £101,500 for NQs).

These rises have left even the top English firms in the shade, with the £70,000 offered by Slaughter and May and Clifford Chance to NQs looking, by comparison, less than magical.

Sidley Austin has also boosted its trainee pay rates. First years go from £41,000 to £44,000, while second years rise from £43,000 to £48,000.