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Herbert Smith Freehills boosts London junior lawyer pay by 13% to £93,000

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Weeks after global giant hiked US associate salaries

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) has boosted the pay packets of its newly qualified (NQ) solicitors in London.

The global outfit confirmed today that its fresh-faced City associates will now start on a very healthy £93,000 (salary and bonus), up 13% from £82,000. Trainee remuneration remains unchanged, with first years earning £44,000, rising to £48,000 in year two.

Meanwhile, HSF associates with two years post-qualification experience (PQE) can earn up to £114,000 (salary and bonus), a rise of £7,000 or 7%. The firm, which offers around 60 training contracts annually, confirmed that the rises came into effect last month.

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Commenting on the pay uplifts, Ian Cox, HSF’s regional managing partner, said:

“It is important for us to continue to attract and retain the best performers to deliver excellent client service. The new compensation system for associates enables us to drive high performance, reward the strongest individuals and helps us work with them to realise their full potential and fulfil their ambition.”

Hard cash aside, the 60-office-outfit performed well in our Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. HSF chalked up As in eight categories including training, quality of work and peer support, and bagged the gong for ‘Best Use of Social Media’ at the Legal Cheek Awards earlier this year.

News of HSF’s UK increases come just weeks after it bumped the salaries of its US junior associates to an eye-watering $190,000 (roughly £144,000 based on current exchange rates). This was in response to a series of pay rises triggered by New York-headquartered giant Milbank.

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82 Comments

Kirkland Big D Swinging Equity Patnah

Key phrase: 93k salary AND bonus

Jog on you salty grafters

Anonymous

Can outfits like Legal Cheek point out this trick more often and more critically? I don’t understand how the UK firms have managed to get away with this slight of hand over the past couple of years without a huge backlash. What’s next, attributing a notional value to the ability to work from home and including it within gender pay gap reports?

Anonymous

Does anybody know the usual split between salary and bonus?

Anonymous

I would guess around 10% Bonus – this is typically what NQs/juniors get in good City firms. That would put the base salary potentially around £84/85,000 which seems like quite a big jump from the £75k club but not wholly unrealistic. The opaque nature of these total comp packages are unattractive.

AG Associate

Why on earth the legal press allows UK City firms to portray NQ salaries in this way is beyond me. At Akin Gump and Kirkland, NQs are now on $190k in London, which is topped up with a $15k bonus at the end of the year (hours dependent), and NQs have just had a one off $5k bonus thanks to the recent US salary/bonus war. On that basis, an AG/Kirkland NQ in London has a “pay packet” of $210k, which at the current FX rate is £158.5k, so HSF are almost £70k short of any top of the market “pay packet”…

Anonymous

Lol meanwhile SPB pay £68k NQ and zero bonus. 😂😂😂

Anonymous

Almost as bad as CMS

Captain Transparency

These combined salary/bonus figures are ridiculous and should not be reported. It is either a salary on it is not.

Anonymous

Hogan Lovells your move

Anonymous

This. HL salaries as you get more years PQE become much less than supposedly comparable firms like HSF etc.

Anonymous

Try being at NRF and CMS (LOL)

Anonymous

Or SPB – 68k at NQ is almost insulting.

Anonymous

For what though, 1500/1600 chargeable hours? It’s not a bad deal: you’d have to do 1900-2000 to get a decent bonus in a MC/SC firm.

Anonymous

SPB pays very well for many lawyers who effectively do fuck-all. Try going to the firm’s Pensions, Employment or Property teams past 5.30pm – you won’t see a single person in sight. Only Corporate, Financial Services and Arbitration teams get serious graft.

Anonymous

Please stop aggregating the bonus and salary figure. Not everyone gets a bonus, never mind the maximum bonus, and it’s completely dishonest reporting to do so.

scepticallawyer

Yay, so if I’m one of the lucky 5% who gets the top bonus, I’ll only be getting £50,000 less than an NQ at K&E!
#Blessed #LivingTheDream…..

Mid-Market

Excellent – hopefully this causes mangement to up our salaries too.

Anonymous

The mid-market would have to move to £75-80k at least to make people comfortable in staying put. This way there’s an exodus in the making.

Anonymous

MAGIC CIRCLE HR AND PARTNERS WAKE UP

Anonymous

They don’t care.

Anonymous

Yessssss!!! Let’s go.

Anonymous

With bonus.. Therefore only a few K more than the magic circle. Not the substantial jump hoped for really. Quite a joke that all UK firms have adopted this completely opaque system now just to make it seem like they’re ever so slightly closer to the US salaries (but still about 60K behind in reality)……

Anonymous

Brothers!

Sisters!

A windfall tax on this greed to fund social care and the NHS!!

VOTE CORBYN

FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW

Anonymous

Quick question, how much would you expect a dual qualified associate to earn in the regions? It seems to be around half of the NQ salary just announced here!

Anonymous

£11,000 per year, give or take £350

Anonymous

Shit banter, son.

Anonymous

How many HSF NQ lawyers would actually receive the full 93k after accounting for bonus?

Anonymous

V. few. Majority won’t be on a bonus and if they are won’t get anywhere close to that.

Quack

So basically, whilst other firms use the Cravath scale, HSF use the “Irwin Mitchell/ DWF” equity partner salary scale.

Anonymous

IM & DWF senior associates don’t earn anywhere near £93k.

innit

Hence the “…equity partner scale” duh!

Anonymous

Ah ok, sorry I didn’t read that bit!

Anonymous

In fairness, ‘equity partner salary’ is a contradiction in terms.

Anonymous

Not very transparent by aggregating the base plus bonus but still not a bad salary. Everyone seems to take Kirkland etc. as the typical US salary when they should just be considered as the (very high) top of the market, with firms like Kennedys/Ince as the low end of the market.

The magic circle/silver circle have never paid market leading salaries, so why is everyone so up in arms about it now?

Anonymous

It’s due to the hours and working conditions.

Anonymous

The difference is significant now, it’s not just an cheeky £10k on offer. Plus you used to sacrifice some career development and training in the past, but now US firms get the better instructions for transaction work.

Anonymous

According to ROF, before the increase, top performers could earn up to 90k with bonus. Does this mean that the increase only amount to 3k? If so, it’s quite misleading to claim a 13% increase in salary.

Anonymous

Spot on. The base has gone up by 3k, so all in all not quite as newsworthy as it seems!

Anonymous

Soo silver circle NQ are now earning more than their magic circle counterparts…the world is changing!

Sceptical Bear

Hang on, I’m pretty sure that smaller SC firms like Macs and Travers pay *up to* 91k on qualification depending on performance/billables, and MC firms like Freshfields pay up to 97k depending on the same.

Is the bonus being referred to here the guaranteed/estimated firm-wide bonus offered to all associates, or the maximum additional bonus offered to the grinders?

Anonymous

NMacs is currently £75k + 5% firm wide bonus + 5% on target billables bonus + (potential 15% exceptional performance – rare)

magicnq

I think Macs has increased salaries a bit. I was offered an NQ role at Macs last month and their basic was 80k + the 5% bonus. Seemed like a nice shop.

Anonymous

Well it can only have literally gone up in the last month or so because from Sept 17 it was as I set out above.

Anonymous

You’re out of date – the 75k salary was their NQ base a couple of years ago. I think that it’s 78k + the firm-wide bonus that takes it to 81k + whatever you get for performance.

For Macs, there’s a discretionary bonus, that’s advertised internally, that goes up to £2k. It’s for new hires only. Not sure what it’s based on.

Anonymous

No he’s not out of date. Travers is currently NQ 75k and a flat 6% bonus across the firm. Way behind competitors even in the silver circle who actually get performance related bonuses. Which means you’ll be working US hours in one of the busy teams and get literally half their pay. Pointless

FBD

That’s not true. Freshields NQs and 1PQEs get between 82 & 85k.

Anonymous

How do they get away with this when HSF’s partner profits, reputation and quality of work are all far worse

Anonymous

Not true – 1PQE is £95k.

FBD

No it’s not. It’s ‘merit based’ pay. Basically your salary doesn’t go up every year with your PQE, which means that most get around 85k. If you worked at FBD you’d know that.

MC trainee

This sucks. Was hoping for MC/SC to hit £100k salaries pre-bonus.

Even if they are at £93k OVERALL comp people forget that that is akin to US £150/155k OVERALL comp.

£60k difference, for the same hours, just as good training, and just as good deals – no brainer… go to a US firm folks.

Common Law, Common Sense

“Akin to” does not mean what you think it means.

US Trainee

Lots of articles about associate pay which is smoke and mirrors, but none on trainee comp which affects most readers. It has been stuck at more or less at 45kish for the last 10 years with about a 10% improvement despite inflation (US comp around 2007 was c.40k), increased cost of living and general billable expectations (minimums have gone from c.1600 to c.2000 in the last 5 odd years alongside the associated pay increases).

The business case, at least at US shops, is that trainees are still pulling close to or thereabouts the same billables as many associates i.e. 2k+. Whilst charged out for less, it’s not *that* much less and we’re still making hundreds of thousands for the firm. Throwing a few k towards trainees can make a dramatic difference to quality of life.

Beyond that, I find being a trainee to be financially difficult. Because we don’t have associate flexibility. Many partners head off at 6-7 and then work from home, but we have to be flexible and responsive and adaptable to the people we work for. Many associates don’t get in till 10 or 10:30, but they’re fine as long as they killing their billable hours and producing a good work product. But trainees have to be on the dot or thereabouts to 9-9:30 and work around the workflows of other people. And we’re often in the office until midnight or beyond.

That means we have to live close to the office (i.e. 10-20 minutes walking) in order to have a semblance of a life, not make mistakes by becoming a zombie and not to risk misconduct by potential lateness. That’s super expensive.

One of the justifications for upping salaries in NYC was wanting associates to be able to afford to live closer to the office. And it should be the same here. It works out just as well on 35-40k (doing far more reasonable hours and closer to a 9-5) than 45-50k (closer to 24/7 days) if you can be more flexible with where you live. And trainees can’t.

Almost all the trainees I know at US firms live within a 20 minute walk. And for the minority who don’t I’ve noticed there *can* be performance issues e.g. in reviews, not being taken on.

Trainees are utterly mugged off.

Anonymous

Are you at Kirkland?

Kirkland Trainee

Nah, we wouldn’t get out of bed for £45k. Which joke US firm still pays that?

Anonymous

I understand Latham, Skadden, Sidley, Gibson Dunn, Ropes, Shearman, Weil, White & Case amongst others with UK international firms like the MC paying out just as much, or in some cases a little more. Only Kirkland, Debevoise, Sullivan, Davis Polk and Cleary do I understand pay 50-55k.

Anonymous

There’s a fairly simple explanation for trainees being paid a lot less than NQs (other than, you know, not being qualified….) – trainee rates may be the broadly the same as NQ rates, but the recovery will be very poor. Institutional clients will often simply get trainee time for free, and others will expect chunky write offs.

Also, any City firm worth its salt is going to be letter you expense a cab home if you work late, so living 20 minutes walk from the office really isn’t a necessity (speaking as someone who has done north of 2,000 hours a year for three straight years, does not slope off home at 7pm to WFH most of the time and commutes 45 minutes door to door…)

Anonymous

At my firm, trainee time is not discounted or written off commonly or consistently and my understanding is that it is not US market practice to do so. We also have firm policies in line with the market only for the managing partner of the London office to be able to write off small amounts up to c.10k and usually it still requires US approval. There also usually have to be specific grounds.

Cabs are not much faster than public transport, if they are at all.

The reason firms haven’t upped is because they think they can get away with it. As I say, a few k to trainees isn’t much – 5k for 10 trainees a year is 50k. That’s nothing.

Anonymous

£45k in year one. Probably £50k in year two. +£100k in year three onwards.

That’s not a bad salary trajectory.

It’s easy to lose perspective working for a US law firm, but I don’t think you are getting mugged off.

Anonymous

That’s incredibly patronising and wrong. That kind of comment is the reason why firms which could afford more don’t pay up.

In the US, firms give their summers (who contribute no value and are courted to stay as associates) associate compensation to the tune of c.$30k+ dollars for the summer.

In the UK, the c.£7-8k maintenance grant at US/UK firms during the LPC was stagnant for about 10 years. That didn’t rise and hasn’t risen commensurate to inflation and most people were saying “I can’t live off this” even for 7 months. But people like you – students with no experience or knowledge about your market worth – shouted “pipe down, look at how much you get paid at trainee/associate level”. Eventually MC/other UK firms have upped this to a still rather paltry c.10k, but most US firms still remain in the £7-8k bracket.

And being a first year trainee is NOT year 1. Law firms recruit 2 years in advance. A minority will be in their second year out of law school having done the LPC previously. A large proportion of trainees at US firms have had other experience beforehand (where they’ve usually earnt just as much, if not more, working far less). Even for someone who has just gotten the TC at the end of their final year of a law degree, they still have 2 years to kill (including the LPC) before starting.

But that’s still all redundant because it’s about your market worth. It’s like moaning about what bankers and footballers get paid. If you’re billing hundreds of thousands for the firm, they can afford to provide a few extra k in line with inflation. It means nothing to them. In the US, they all pay what everyone else pays, usually led by Cravath, so they don’t lose talent for the sake of a small amount of money.

So back to “losing perspective”, I think you need a kick up the arse. Firstly, I’m pretty sure you don’t understand income tax and what that does to salaries. Secondly, if you pay say c.1k a month plus 100 quid on bills on accommodation for somewhere within walking distance to the office (so no c.130 a month on the tube – 800 monthly + tube works out to a similar cost), that’s 40% of your take home as a first seat trainee and, living reasonably modestly after tax, you’re saving little, it at all. Thirdly, salaries haven’t risen in relation to inflation, billables, firm profitability, trainee standards/expectations and trainee profitability. Fourthly, it’s a long hard slog to get a TC, many have more experience before joining, there’s a 2 year wait period. It all comes down to wanting to get what you’re worth.
Finally, there is no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Everyone does interviews for their desired departments and get new contracts if successful in those interviews. And everyone goes into this hoping for the best and with their eyes open (apparently not you). They realise they might not till partnership and they know retention rates are poor. By 3-5 PQE usually most people have moved in-house for less money. You can’t predict if there’s going to be a job for you, what the economy’s going to be like, what your family situation is going to be like and whether you’re going to want a job like this raising babies and young children.

Anonymous

The other thing I didn’t mention was opportunity cost. Firms want the best graduates. The best graduates have options. For example, in my cohort, there were “fresh graduates” who had gotten other offers – one had turned down an IBD offer after summering. That would have been at least 45-50k straight out of university but that person had to wait 2 years to start the TC effectively unpaid, getting a loan from their parents to travel and sit on their arse (c. £25k).
Personally, I was already working. Shortly after receiving the TC offer, I had a promotion offer for about 15k more. I couldn’t take it because I had to leave 6 months after moving for the LPC, it wasn’t a choice particularly if I didn’t want to risk completely screwing them over and cheating myself out of a good reference. After tax, it meant I lost several k. Then I lost a whole bunch of money whilst doing the LPC relative not just to my living expenses but what I was earning beforehand. I couldn’t guess an exact amount, but upwards of 10k. And then I had 6 months after the LPC unpaid before starting the TC; I mitigated that loss by working for some of it but earnt substantially less than my past earnings.

So it’s particularly biting when you get someone telling you you’ve lost perspective. I will not recover my lost earnings during the TC.

Anonymous

The alternative is to spend approximately 200k usd on a jd before starting as a first year associate. Being sponsored the lpc + maintenance + TC wage is better deal here.

Anonymous

Obviously the only alternative. No reason to grumble. It is the only career going. And scholarships don’t exist either. Nor is the cost of living in Texas lower than London. Nor are they funded every year by law firms at associate rates.

On a serious note, don’t be a dick. You’re obviously a student. Pose questions. And if you want to join the profession, you should want salaries to be higher for trainees rather than blindly ignoring some of the downsides and trying to justify the behaviour of certain law firms.

Anonymous

I’m sorry if you find it patronising, but you are seeing the situation from one side only. Objectively you could say:

1. Law is second highest paying graduate profession in the UK (behind investment banking). If, as you say, you are at a US firm, then you’ll be at the very top end of this scale.

2. Law firms are under enormous financial pressures. It’s easy to think a law firm can give more money to trainees, but you don’t have the responsibility for the firm’s finances.

3. People tend to get paid what the market dictates. This is true for all professions. At the moment it’s quite clear that the market dictates that paying trainees £45-50k is correct as law firms are in no shortage of amazing applicants. If law firms feel they are missing out on the best candidates because salaries are too low, then this will change. That’s not the case at the moment though.

I have no doubt that you’ll disagree, but I do think having perspective helps.

Anonymous

US firms are enormously profitable and have been making record profits quarter after quarter. They can easily afford to pay trainees more and paying c.50k to top up a trainee cohort is nothing to them. I sit with a partner who makes 3 million a year. The money trainees make for the firm and the talent development pool it gives firms for new associates is worth it. Where else do they get junior lawyers, you are unaware that recruiters charge at least 10% of an associate’s salary in fees – i.e. 15k to recruit an NQ from somewhere else, 0k to recruit their own trainee. You’ve also ignored all my points e.g. it is not a graduate salary, fixed vs variable costs, living expenses, working hours, stress, retention, attrition, business reasons.

You are enormously arrogant, no trainee in a million years would be coming up with this kind of guff. In the real world you would be lucky to be getting a vac scheme where you’d be on your knees sucking up to me for application advice and to put a good word in for you. But on the internet you know it all, like most LegalCheek commentators. I am a fourth seater about to qualify in September, I have had another career before law, I have worked crappy jobs before that since I was 16; you should do well to listen to me rather than talking down or trying to debate me with recycled ‘facts’ you read on a recruitment website. There are counters to my argument e.g. that trainees are rubbish and can’t do anything (that argument is fair enough but only to an extent), but you nor anyone else are making them.

Common Law, Common Sense

“They can easily afford to pay trainees more…”

Exactly. But dude, the point that your opponent is made is valid: they don’t need to, so why pay them more? There’s no shortage of talented applicants. If enough people start complaining and turning town TCs (like that’s going to happen) then over time that might change. And if you want some perspective, get off your high horse and look at the Bar. We have to grovel and be grateful at the prospect of a £12,000 pupillage after on average 2/3 years trying, and that’s after incurring greater costs than you to qualify with no draw-down.

Anonymous

Thank you! You can always rely on a barrister to understand an argument.

Barristers (and medical professions) do a job that you can’t even imagine the value of until you need them.

True heroes.

Anonymous

No, his point was something muddled about the “market”.

My point has always been that they pay so low because they can get away with it. Because they lock in trainees who can’t jump ship. And because US firms historically jumped in at a few more k than the MC firms to entice applicants. And it’s stuck that way.

I know WHY they pay so low. I’m just saying it sucks and it is low.

Anonymous

“…no trainee in a million years would be coming up with this kind of guff. ”

Spot on. I’m not a trainee – which means I have perspective.

It’s funny the assumptions you’ve made – I’m a student, I don’t understand income tax, I’m arrogant etc.

All wrong.

Everyone wants to be paid more – you are clearly no different. I want to be paid more too.

Sadly, that’s not how it works I’m afraid my keyboard warrior friend.

Sounds like you are about to qualify at a US firm, which means you’ll be in the top 1% of earners globally…I hope you don’t get mugged off any more than you have been.

Anonymous

No, my assumptions are spot on. You’re not a trainee. You want to become one presumably if you’re hanging about on here. You certainly don’t understand income tax. All in the training contract of c.45-50k + maintenance grant is worth about 28k PAYE a year for your time commitment. That is you could do a job for 28k a year for c.3 years and would net the same as during the TC. So when you say law is the second highest paid graduate job, I told you it’s not and you don’t understand tax.

Focussing on associate and partner salaries is the pastime of brain-dead LegalCheek readers. Mostly students who will try and fail to get TCs. 0.1% will get TCs at US firms. 0.01% will stay at one as an associate for more than 5 years. No comprehension of the horrendous hours, stress and the fact that the vast majority of people don’t have the talent to do it at the requisite level.

Anyway, best of luck – when your balls drop and if you eventually get a TC, you’ll see what I mean.

Anonymous

Wrong assumptions again!

You over value your worth I’m afraid.

And to think that you have to live within 20 minutes of the office to be successful just shows how utterly delusional you are.

If you go through your career with these delusional views, you’ll end up having a very unhappy working life.

Anonymous

Seriously get real… Even trainees get paid substantially more than most people will ever get paid

Anonymous

There’s an element of TLDR here.

I thought that if the US firms were paying either their trainees or their associates more , so that they could live nearer work and maintain a life and freshness despite the high billable hour need, that was clever.

There’s an argument across the piece though for giving more people a turn, cheaper, less billable hours and returning quality stick to society , rather than the office block.

I think you are wrong if you think a transactional lawyer at Mac’s is shit compared to one at Kirkland.

If Kirkland employed 2 staff, on shifts even, not one , it would be interesting.

I suspect they think they have to feed elitism, like an inverted Henry Ford

Anonymous

Come on Dechert!

Anonymous

ROFL, dream on.

Anonymous

Shet firm

Anonymous

What is the billing target for a £93k N.Q. at this shop?

Anonymous

Important questions and cucks avoiding the answer

Anonymous

Not fixed anymore. More discretion on performance bonus means targets are relative.

Anonymous

Politician’s answer…

Anonymous

I’ve seen a lot of negativity around Dechert as a place to train/work at, can someone sum up why all the bad press? Currently in the midst of applying to firms

Anonymous

Dechert and DWF are flavour of the month for jokes on here.

For previous months’ favourites, see Jones Day, Irwin Mitchell etc.

Anonymous

This is complete and utter rubbish. At HSF you’re incredibly lucky to take home £93k if you’re 2 1/2 pqe. They just plant a totally unattainable salary cap to inflate the below market basic salary.

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