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The big 5-0: Two Bristol firms reach unprecedented NQ pay milestone

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Osborne Clarke and Simmons & Simmons lead West Country pay war, but will other outfits follow suit?

Both Simmons & Simmons and Osborne Clarke have increased Bristol newly qualified (NQ) pay to a huge £50,000, the first time a West Country office has reached this salary milestone.

This landmark moment comes thanks to salary nudges of £1,000 (Simmons) and £2,000 (Osborne Clarke), announced alongside comparable pay increases for the firm’s London lot. Both firms have recently upped London wedge by £3,000, to £71,000 and to £68,000 respectively. This means Bristolians are paid about £20,000 less than their counterparts in the capital — perhaps a small price to pay to live in what’s recently been named Britain’s coolest city.

Trainee remuneration has been boosted in both firms too. London-based outfit Simmons — which opened its regional outpost back in 2012 — has recently increased aspiring solicitor pay by £1,000 per year. It now gives its annual trio of Bristol trainees £37,000 and £38,000 for the first and second years respectively. At Osborne Clarke, first year pay is up £2,000 to £36,750 and second year is up £1,250 to £38,000.

Simmons and Osborne Clarke are by no means the only commercial firms with a strong presence in Banksy’s unofficial hometown. Burges Salmon, CMS and RPC are among other examples — so what’s their reaction to this latest pay news?

Burges Salmon, the biggest firm in Bristol, pays its NQ lawyers £48,000 (thanks to a recent £1,000 increase). Speaking to Legal Cheek about this regional pay war, Robert Halton, the firm’s chief people officer, said:

We always aim to pay top of the market, but we’re not in the London market [like Simmons & Simmons and Osborne Clarke both are]. We pay our NQs the market rate in this city. We are quite content with where our salaries are at the moment and we believe they’re reasonable.

Though Halton notes London still, generally, pays its NQs far more than Bristol does, “in Bristol you have more of an opportunity to buy accommodation and you have a much-reduced travel to work time”. But that doesn’t mean the cost of living is cheap, with property values in Bristol having increased by 10% in 2016. The average house price in Bristol is £268,000; in London it’s nearly half a million.

As for CMS, just this summer we revealed the newly-merged outfit had upped its West County wedge to an impressive £49,000, so it doesn’t seem like another pay increase is on the cards here. Indeed, a spokesperson for the firm has said it “constantly reviews” its salary levels to remain competitive and will continue to do this in the future.

And then there’s RPC, which pays its NQs a “merit-based” salary. A spokesperson told us:

While we don’t disclose pay levels by office, we are always keeping an eye on the markets that we operate in.

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