The story of how 25-year-old City lawyers came to earn £143,000 a year

By on

A handy video explainer

It’s been an interesting couple of months for City lawyer pay.

US outfit Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy fired the starting pistol on another summer pay war after it upped the salaries of its London-based newly qualified (NQ) lawyers to £143,000. Not to be outdone, a host of US firms quickly matched Milbank’s big money move.

The focus now shifts to the top UK-headquartered outfits, most notably the fivesome known as the magic circle. Keen to preserve their elite status and keep their associate ranks satified, they too are likely to bump pay — but by just how much remains to be seen.

The 2018 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

That said, one big City firm — albeit not a member of the magic circle — has already upped pay following the US rises. Herbert Smith Freehills announced last week that junior associates will now start on a £93,000 (salary and bonus), up 13% from £82,000.

Legal Cheek has produced a handy video (embedded above) giving you the lowdown on this summer’s MoneyLaw madness.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub



The bank won’t allow me to deposit my digestives in my current account.


That’s because there are no currants in digestives.


Why did you remove the “Irwin Mitchell” from my name? STOP PROTECTING THEM.


Because I drafted a defamation claim on a used Tesco Value digestive pack that was lying around the office, and waved it under Alex’s nose. He promptly defecated himself and agreed to remove the name. I didn’t tell him that it’s all true.

JD Partner

I know how you feel.


Second that.

JD Trainee

I’ve resorted to the Daily Mail comments section. LC’s a lost cause.

JD Partner

You shouldn’t be online at all! Get back under my desk!

CPS employee

You guys get digestives?


The magic circle is great if you can gain entry into ‘dat sweeeeet equity pool, but look elsewhere if you’re a junior. Don’t believe any of the hype re: the magic circle’s gentler work culture in comparison to US shops. You will be worked like a dog regardless – at least the latter will make it worth your while.


Except of course that PEP in US firms dominates MCs too…


Exactly right, often by very significant margins (£1-£2 million plus). Heck, Macfarlanes has a higher PEP than Freshies, Links, CC & A&O now.

The reality is that the MC firms have barely grown in the last decade. They’ve overexpanded and opened offices in peripheral jurisdictions (Freshies has two offices in Vietnam?!) + have completely failed to crack America the world’s most important and lucrative legal market, hence the vast profitability gap.


Did you not get a second interview at Kirkland?


I am also really sceptical about “prestige” – I cannot think of a legal job that would hire an MC lawyer with [x]PQE but not a K&E lawyer with [x]PQE. The top whack US firms are extremely prestigious in their own right.


The only prestige which should matter is the money in your bank account


Eh… no. MC still have a tight grip on the most high profile work coming out of London. God you people are so easily persuaded by the money.


They did last time England were in the World Cup semis. Now not so much.


Sadly, not true. In the most profitable areas of work, PE, leveraged finance, M&A, restructuring etc. we come across US firms all the time. The best US firms have succeeded very well in London.




Day 120 of my TC at a firm that rhymes with Berwin Ritchell, the kennelmasters have generously offered an extra helping of stale bread they found in the skip if I surpass my annual billable targets by 167%


I didn’t agree to this! Back in your cage underling!


Hardly any US firms in London pay 143. That’s simply fake news.


It would be really helpful if LC updated their Most Money NQ list as hardly any US firms are listed.



They have made a headline out of the salaries of about 17 people


Not everyone is at £143k but if you count all associates at firms paying W&C and above – which represents a material difference in your take home every month over MC rates – you are talking about a few thousand jobs

Dark Destroyer

Lol……getting paid £17 an our working 24 hours a day….don’t worry younglins you’ll earn your £140,000 a year. Look after yourselves life is too short to hand it away to somebody else.


The hours at US firms are no different to SC and MC.

Wa nkba nk

Can people honestly answer this. Do you do more hours with American firms? Will they slave you? Or is that just a myth and you work same as MC and SC


Depends what kind of work you do. PE, restructuring and leveraged finance associates are working the same hours everywhere. That’s why the MC should differentiate and pay those teams at US rates while keeping tax, real estate, employment associates the current level.


They already do this for partners….


LC, as mentioned many times before, HSF’s NQ’s salaries do not start at 93k. 93k comprises of a figure which includes bonus which the majority of HSF NQs are not likely to receive. It’s very misleading to say HSF increased wages by 13% as well. Please stop perpetuating these misleading information.


How do you know it’s not likely?


Because they’re all shite.

Le Sigh

Stop trying to make MoneyLaw a thing.


Meanwhile at the CMS battery farms I’m still on £67k


Wrong. It was £67.5k and is now £70k at the NQ level.


Evidence? Or just CMS HR puff team?

CMS Senior Associate

I can confirm.

NQ 70k
“Associate” £78k
Senior Associate £95k

Kirkland NQ



Quality firm, this CMS shop.


It is – huge number of legal directory rankings and 6th largest firm in the world.


That’s exactly why they pay a hefty £67.5k for an NQ LMAOOO

CMS Senior Associate

Oh why don’t you just SHUT UP?

I’d rather work for CMS than any other firm.

US 1PQE; earning more than you

Keep chasing the CMS greasy pole mate: once you become salaried partner you MIGHT finally earn almost as much as what a Latham NQ gets paid.

Panicking applicant

Honest response needed (if not deserved) – I have first class honours marks from a RG Uni in Law (2nd year) but have been rejected in TC applications. Is there something seriously wrong with how I am filling out the relevant forms, or is a first not a big deal in even getting through to an assessment centre?

*NB: I do have work experience.


Go away.


You can’t get any useful responses from such limited information. I don’t provide advice to people I don’t know and like in any event precisely because of the commentators on internet forums and comment sections.

Mr T

Trainee you aren’t very nice! Do you want a dog biscuit?!


Better a bit of a dick than an egotistical arrogant smug prat who would make me go to prison for murder if I ever worked with them.


Need to demonstrate leadership skills and customer facing paid employment helps.


Asking for meaningful advice in the LC comments section. You must be knew here.


New even.

Trainee Solicitor at HL

U.K. firms need to respond. Not just MC but the likes of Hogan Lovells need to grow up. Just raise the NQ salary to 81k it looks more sexy than 75.


Shet firm, forget about any meaningful raise.

Massive overheads, obese deadwood UK partnership, too many unproductive mouths to feed.

Hogan & Hartson were out of their minds to merge with an English turd like Lovells.


Not true. Lovells is a very good shop. Litigation team is probably the best (or at least one of the best) in the City.


LOL you’re so delusional.

Future trainee at HSF

I agree, but I’d say HSF is the best litigation shop in the city with HL in the top 4. This website is full of critics who have nothing better to say than “ my US firm is better than you”. I’d rather be at Herbert smith / Hogan Lovells than akin Gump because they just suit me


3 Bs + a 2:1 non-RG + 1 week work experience + 3 years minimum wage after graduation =


It’s good you kept the part after the equals sign empty because that’s pretty much what that sums up


Magic Circle firms shit on US firms for prestige.

In the absence of unsustainably high salaries, no one in their right mind would work for the likes of Kirkland – total sweatshop. Just look at their trainee retention rates.

Join the conversation

Related Stories