Exclusive: Elite London commercial chambers fails to pay clerks living wage

XXIV Old Buildings one of a number of sets paying pittance to support staff

A leading commercial chambers in London where barristers can pocket seven-figure earnings has been advertising junior clerk positions that pay thousands less than the living wage.

Legal Cheek can reveal XXIV Old Buildings, a Lincoln’s Inn-based commercial and chancery law set, posted a job ad (screenshot below) on the Legal Practice Management Association (LPMA) website looking to recruit two junior clerks in full-time roles on an annual salary of just £16,000. This is over £3,000 less than the London living wage. At the time of writing, the ad is still online

A screenshot of the XXIV Old Buildings’ advert (via LPMA website)

According to the Living Wage Foundation, an independent organisation that promotes fair pay across the UK, a person 18 or over and working in London should receive £9.75 an hour. Based on a working week of 37.5 hours this comes out at £19,012.50 per annum — £3,012.50 more than what XXIV Old Buildings is coughing up for its junior clerks.

It’s worth noting that the living wage, higher than the national minimum wage, is an optional guideline for employers and is not enforceable by law.

Emphasising that it is “committed to providing a positive working environment for all its staff”, a spokesperson for XXIV Old Buildings told Legal Cheek:

The position advertised is an entry-level position for individuals who have no experience and who are keen to take their first step into clerking — we do not expect the person to be on this salary for long. The salary is in line with industry standard and XXIV offers a very attractive benefits package.

These puny pay packets are all the more astonishing given that XXIV Old Buildings is home to some of country’s top remunerated lawyers. Boasting large multinationals as clients (it even has an outpost in Geneva, Switzerland), the chambers’ top QCs and juniors can trouser millions of pounds a year. Legal Cheek’s Most List also shows that pupils are awarded £65,000, over four times the salary of a junior clerk.

Another example of poor chambers pay, until very recently, is 12 King’s Bench Walk. An advert, again posted on the LPMA website and which has since been updated, showed that the London personal injury and clinical negligence set was looking to take on a new “junior clerk”. The London role came with a salary of “circa £17,500”, more than £1,500 under the living wage recommendation.

A spokesperson for the set told us:

12KBW have made a decision to ensure all staff are paid at least the London ‘living wage’, and having made this decision are not proceeding with the recruitment process of a junior clerk as advertised at £17,500 per annum. Chambers are in the process of re-advertising the junior clerk’s vacancy at £21,600.

Legal Cheek also spotted one further example of a chambers looking to recruit junior clerks on less than the London living wage. The ad, by a recruitment agency on behalf of a “leading barristers chambers”, shows that the role comes with a salary of “£17k + discretioary [sic] bonuses and excellent benefits.”

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52 Comments

Anonymous

Not only that, but it puts a massive emphasis on the “us vs them” lawyer attitudes towards support staff. I get it, no one gets paid if not for lawyers charging hours but barristers rely on clerks for everything. Without the support staff they don’t get to spend every waking hour getting that bespoke pinstripe three piece fitted or perfecting the flowing gown look when leaving the courtroom.

(5)(1)
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Anonymous

Arch! Does no one understand how clerking works?? The whole point is that the junior clerks “graduate” and become more senior through experience and supervision of the senior clerks and eventually earn very handsomely indeed – once they become a “proper clerk” having served time as the junior the clerk would easily earn £90-£100k before eventually becoming a clerk paid on a % basis – which at somewhere like XXIV means an easy 400-500k. Juniors don’t stay junior for ever, but it is a “right of passage”/important part of their development to be the “junior junior” – ok £16k is a little low but the earning potential from there is basically unparalleled to say that you can start off with no qualifications whatsoever. Further, clerks are very rarely remunerated by the chambers, it is very often a private agreement between​the senior clerks and the junior. I admit that the starting pay is low, but the earning potential has to be taken into account! Also many legal aid barristers don’t earn £16k per year. It is important not to throw junior clerks in the same bracket as “support staff” because they are not in any way similar. Support staff will usually never have anything like the earning potential/opportunity that clerks will and that is why there is a better case for paying them London living from the off.

Ok £16k is low but many of them will end up making way more than some of the Barristers. Unfortunately that comes with its downsides which includes a perception that they have to “serve their time” to eventually justify the huge earnings. Perhaps this is old fashioned but it is exactly how the junior bar works. Junior clerks are very often 18-25 and that part of their career is just as much educational as it is a job. It is not unusual for professions such as this to have a period of low pay and hard work at the start.

If there is any dispute to be had it is more about the allocation of pay as between all the clerks (e.g. it’s unfair that our senior clerk takes £500k home while the junior is making £16k). As far as I see it is very little to do with the Barristers/Chambers.

(3)(3)
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Anonymous

This is a well put counter argument. But if it hasn’t done so already, this generous old style arrangement will be discontinued. You don’t need to pay a clerk six figures because the skills can be had cheaper. Paralegals vs trainee solicitors and partners without equity come to mind. The middle class benchmark one another and have a dynastic mentality, as we all know 🙂

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

that old arrangement of senior clerks paying the others is long gone. I do not know of any set still carrying out such a practice. but the main points about potential earnings and a rite of passage are valid.

(1)(0)
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Anonymous

What a ridiculous argument. Nothing in what you says explains why a junior clerk in London can’t be on £21k rather than £16k – you can still ‘do your time’ in a junior role while earning enough to pay rent and so on. The idea that you reckon that this is an acceptable salary just because it’s being earned by someone 25 or younger is bizarre.

And in fact, given that any school leaver can get a job in Tescos for £16k, I’m astonished that a good chambers wouldn’t want to offer a more competitive salary. You don’t necessarily need stellar educational qualifications to be a good clerk. However you do need to write well as it is an outward facing role, and you are dealing with clients by email. You also need to be reasonably numerate. Add to this the combination of personal qualities required – charm, good negotiating skills and firmness in chasing fees – and it’s clear that it is certainly not a job that just anyone can do (so the comparison with paralegalling is not apt).

I agree that with the commenter above that the days of the senior clerk determining his team’s pay are long gone. So are the days of the very high-earning head clerk, and for the same reason. A head clerk used to receive a sizeable percentage cut of all earnings which he could dole out among the clerking team as he saw fit, but this practice was more expensive for barristers and so generally now even very senior clerks are reimbursed mostly through a salary and don’t get a large percentage cut. Afaik, most commercial sets now have a practice manager, who undertakes many of the roles a head clerk would have done 20 years ago but who has probably come up through the clerking route. In those sets I don’t think the head clerk is likely to be on £500k. £100-200k is more like it for a commercial decent set where the head clerk is subordinate to a practice manager figure. Still very healthy, though obviously not all junior clerks will make it that far.

(1)(0)
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Logic

It is socially irresponsible. If these chambers cannot afford to pay junior staff a living wage (and for the record, I’m sure they can), then what hope is there of convincing other, much smaller, businesses to do so?

The “don’t like it, don’t apply for it” argument is a dated attitude that you may expect a 19th century factory owner to adopt.

(57)(7)
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Anonymous

Tell you what, how about you drop XXIV Old Buildings a letter or an email, and tell them how you feel about the inadequate compensation they offer. Remember to mention all that morality and social stuff, I am sure they’ll be impressed with your high moral ground and ashamed of themselves and their inexcusable greed. You do have the power to change the world and make it a better place. Trust me.

You delusional cretin.

(6)(44)
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Logic

This.

It isn’t about moral high ground, it is about being reasonable and fair to those at the start of their careers. Sometimes, thankfully, articles like this and the comments attached to them can be a catalyst for improvements. Chambers would be too fortunate if I personally made the effort to write to them – save for them redeeming themselves, the more likely result is that I would think twice about instructing them in the future if it was a borderline call between them and somebody else.

(14)(0)
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Anonymous

You have obviously been taught how to write plain English, but your judgment content and manner are poor. Your parents are not paying your audience today, like they were doing when you were at school. Bear that in mind and use the skills you have in processing information to learn some better morals. We’ll leave it there for today, run along.

(0)(1)
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Anonymous

I don’t think you understand the nature of the job market right now. If you don’t have many qualifications, you don’t get to pick and choose. When that’s the case, every job should be liveable.

(11)(3)
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Anonymous

Perhaps that is an argument for having tried harder at school to get the qualifications. I knew I didn’t want to work on a pittance, so I out my head down and worked hard. Simples.

(3)(10)
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Consider

What a horrible, old fashioned look on things. Some people aren’t privileged enough to have had the upbringing that inspired them to do that, or even if they did, private school is off the cards for most. Others simply don’t have the intelligence, despite how hard they may try. In any event, even if everybody did that then you would still need to fill roles such as this one.

I would sport a guess that many of the applicants who will apply for this did work hard at school and they would be delighted to secure a job like this in a very competitive job marketplace. It would probably be possible to offer them £12,000 and people would take it given the way the market. Chambers should not exploit this. Instead they should do the right thing and offer junior staff a living wage. People have it hard enough already.

(13)(2)
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Anonymous

Ouch. Don’t badmouth LC’s sponsors because that is very likely to trigger the Legal Cheek’s Comments Policy, whatever that means.

(8)(0)
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Anonymous

LC recently advertised an internship that was paying less than the national living wage ( was advertised at £1,000 a month) let alone London Living Wage, so seems a bit odd that they are having a go at others for paying 33% more than what they were willing to.

(9)(0)
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Anon

“Legal Cheek’s Most List also shows that pupils are awarded £65,000, over four times the salary of a junior clerk.”

For heaven’s sake – this is just silly. A junior clerk does not need to have any qualifications at all. By contrast, a pupil will have an undergraduate degree at a leading university, often together with a master’s degree, potentially a conversion course/GDL, and the notoriously expensive BPTC. These qualifications will often lead to a huge amount of student debt. Moreover, the pupil is likely to be at the very top of their cohort following years of dedicated hard work.

There is simply no reason why a junior clerk should earn anything approaching the salary of a pupil, let alone a tenant. The basic job of a junior clerk is to carry around massive bundles of papers and complete routine administrative exercises (e.g. lodging skeletons at court and arranging conferences with solicitors). By contrast, a pupil at a leading commercial chambers will spend his/her time assisting their supervisor with legal research on cases worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

It is time for everyone to admit that some jobs are worth more than others. Just as Roger Federer earns far more than the Wimbledon ball-boys, leading QCs earn far more than junior clerks. This is simply a function of the market, and there is no way to “correct” it (even if that were desirable). Inequalities should be dealt with through the taxation system, not by some misguided to attempt to equalise the wages of wholly incommensurable jobs.

(34)(6)
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Anonymous

I think you’re missing the point a bit here… I don’t think the suggestion is at all that a junior clerk should be paid the same as a pupil (or a tenant). The suggestion is simply that if the chambers can afford that sort of pupillage award, and the silks are pulling in £1m plus per annum, perhaps increasing chambers overhead by a few grand to ensure the junior clerks are paid a living wage isn’t going to harm any of the barristers to any great degree…

(15)(1)
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Anon

I just don’t agree with this idea of a “living wage”. To be sure, I entirely agree with the idea of a “minimum wage”. This can be fixed at a level which is acceptable to the democratically elected legislature of the UK. But who decides the “living wage”? Some unaccountable not-for-profit organisation? If you think the minimum wage should be raised, that is fine. But I don’t understand why anyone should be obliged to pay more than the legally required amount if the market rate is less.

(6)(9)
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Anonymous

I don’t really have much of a view either way (I don’t know enough how the living wage or the labour market to be able to argue either case). I was just pointing out that you seemed to be responding to an argument that wasn’t made in the article.

(1)(1)
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Anonymous

I think this is a good example of market forces and the role of pressure groups…if one set takes the view they are not going to pay the well publicised but not legally binding living wage, people have the right to call them out on it. The set can say bollocks but ultimately if enough people highlight it and others do pay the living wage they are shooting themselves in the foot. It’s pure greed.

(4)(0)
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Anonymous

“There is simply no reason why a junior clerk should earn anything approaching the salary of a pupil, let alone a tenant. The basic job of a junior clerk is to carry around massive bundles of papers and complete routine administrative exercises (e.g. lodging skeletons at court and arranging conferences with solicitors). By contrast, a pupil at a leading commercial chambers will spend his/her time assisting their supervisor with legal research on cases worth hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Leaving aside the question of whether a presumably solvent business should be paying its staff the living wage (it should), I think that you vastly underestimate the skills required to be a decent clerk. How good your clerk is makes a massive amount of difference to what you charge. Junior clerks negotiate fees for the most junior work (at least in my set). More senior clerks can make an enormous difference in a set’s income annually. And some clerks stay at their sets for life, even today, so if you can get someone excellent in at the ground floor this can be an enormous benefit for chambers.

The idea that a junior clerk is equivalent to a ballboy is absolute nonsense.

(6)(0)
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Teacher

I missed the bit where LC said they should earn the same as a pupil or QC.

I thought they said or implied that they should earn a living wage?

C-

(4)(0)
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Anonymous

The Living Wage is a difficult one.

Whilst its desirable to pay everyone a wage that allows them to have a decent standard of living, this is not always economically feasible.

A Living Wage will result in job cuts, shorter shifts and rising prices for consumers as companies seek to redress the higher labour costs. Job cuts, shorter shifts and higher consumer prices will hurt those that the Living Wage is ironically trying to help – the poorest in society.

Moreover, people will demand more money if they see employees lower than them in the hierarchy getting more. Why should they earn the same as or just a bit more than people with far less skills? This causes an upward wage spiral.

Meddling in the market does not always work.

(2)(5)
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Commercial tenant

Except none of this applies here – an extra £10k in the expenses of a set like this (presuming it is financially healthy) is a trivial amount and is hardly going to cause anyone to put their rates up.

(2)(2)
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Anonymous

Clerking is a good job. This is an entry level position where one would expect the salary to double fairly shortly afterwards. After a couple of years its likely to be double and within 5-7 years it will probably have trebled.

(6)(1)
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Anonymous

This position is aimed at school leavers. Some senior clerks make as much as senior barristers at good sets.

Also pupillage awards are essentially 2 year salaries. BPTC scholarship won’t cover all the fees, plus there’s living costs for the whole year; 15k isn’t the life of Riley. You’ll still probably have to take out a loan/bank of Mum and Dad and/or work a part-time job. 45k in pupillage year or 64k PAYE salary is very nice for pupillage year, but this is a top commercial set where they are competing on pay with the other top commercial sets for the best people, people with Oxbridge firsts (and at this set, I think almost everyone, if not everyone, has that background) plus postgrad. Many have had previous careers too. They’ll also be working 24/7, not 9-5 like an entry level clerk would be. And they’re revenue generating. Plus they have uncertainty of retention upon completion of pupillage and uncertainty of revenue generation and payments thereafter.

(7)(1)
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Commercial tenant

Well done Legal Cheek for highlighting this. It is absolutely right that this kind of set can afford to pay its Junior Clerks an extra £5k each a year – frankly the chambers probably has that kind of money set aside for its Christmas party. And if it can’t afford this then it should cut corners elsewhere rather than by stiffing its most junior employees. I suppose the only caveat to this is what the “attractive benefits package” might be – if this involves an old school percentage cut of barristers’ earnings the income might not be too bad. However, I believe this practice is dying out at most places so the more likely explanation is that XXIV OB are just as big dickheads as their reputation has it.

(9)(7)
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Anonymous

I agree that this is disappointing. It also props up the status quo in that only wealthy young people who don’t actually need the money can pursue this opportunity.

If you happen to come from a working class background this is not feasible for you as you are likely to be under financial pressure to contribute to your household.

(1)(1)
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Anonymous

Even worse than this is that certain chambers *cough Garden Court* offer a clerking ‘apprenticeship’. It’s just an excuse to pay people as little as possible- but that is the Garden Court Way…

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

Anon @ 1.59pm – absolutely clueless if you think junior clerks are ‘wealthy young people’ – pretty much all of them will be from the working class background you mention.

(3)(0)
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Anonymous

I’m a trainee solicitor based in London in a national firm and my salary is £17,000. Demoralising is not the word especially when my billing is second only to the partner in my office. Then they’ll wonder why upon qualification I’ll be out of there.

(9)(1)
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Anonymous

Even junior clerks get an annual bonus, which will boost their annual salary.
Impossible to calculate bonus in advance; it has to be retrospective

(0)(0)
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