Magic circle and US law firms ‘must change the way they work’ or face ‘doom’, warns the FT

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Will £100k+ for newly qualified solicitors prove a high water mark?

Magic circle and US law firms which pay junior lawyers ‘MoneyLaw’ salaries of £100,000 or more risk creating a culture of extreme working hours that will drive away new recruits, the Financial Times (£) has warned in a lead opinion piece today.

Ultimately, failure to change could spell “doom” for traditional partnerships, the paper reckons.

New law businesses using technology to boost efficiency and the legal arms of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms could be the beneficiaries, predicts the FT’s editorial board.

And then “[w]ith the help of the junior lawyers who chose a different path, these new competitors will eventually grow big and well-qualified enough to pitch for the high-end business that, for now, traditional law firms consider to be their exclusive domain.”

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This ‘RIP big law firms’ theory is a neat one. But from what Legal Cheek’s journalists see on the ground money talks more loudly among future lawyers than the FT realises. Let’s not forget that since 2012 graduates have been lumbered with at least £27,000 worth of tuition fee debt while also facing the challenge of getting onto the bottom rung of the mad London housing market.

That’s not to say that the hours at some law firms are not crazy, as Legal Cheek’s exclusive leave the office time research shows.

So what could change all of this? My money would be not on the sort of business-friendly disruption approved of by the FT, but rather growing inequality facilitating the rise of extremist politics and leading to a no deal Brexit or a Corbyn government. That’s about something much bigger than lawyer salaries — and it certainly won’t just be the law firms facing armageddon.

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Is there actually data on whether larger salaries in themselves have increased working hours and whether talented grads are actually choosing ‘alternative career paths’?

My sense is that it is American working cultures and resulting client expectations that are driving longer hours if they are indeed becoming longer.

Equally, of the many I have met, I have never met an Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, UCL or KCL lawyer who could go to a US/MC firm who wanted to work at a big four firm instead. I concede that’s just anecdotal, but this article is just pure speculation.



In reality, even the newly increased Freshfields and CC salaries are not actually all that much larger than they were in the past. Adjusted for inflation, the then standard £66k NQ salary in 2007 would now be approximately £90k. After inflation, we are talking about about a salary growth rate of under 1% a year – hardly anything to write home about.



Law used to be prestigious, but it was overtaken by investment banking and now tech as “the job”. The average trainee solicitor at a MC/US firm is less impressive than a new hire at Google/Facebook. There will always be masochists lining up at prestigious law firms though, they just won’t be the same calibre.



It’s tedious work in a toxic environment with unnecessarily long hours for a high salary and prestigious experience for your CV. There’s really not much else grad recruitment need to spell out. Anything about a ‘collegiate’ culture or ‘challenging’ work is simply a lie. It’s unrealistic to expect that type of culture in a hierarchical structure where high status is one of the motivators for those who join, and juniors would inevitably end up doing most of the tedious, low risk work. Sensible graduates have a think about the work they would enjoy long term and ignore the fuss about salaries. It’s about your lifetime earnings of the career path you choose, not the entry level salary at the most prestigious firm, where most people leave by 2 years post qualification.



FT piece is poor



LC referenced in an FT piece?! Well I never…



The Big 4 are bloated, inefficient and not a threat to anybody other than themselves.

Agree that there is potential for smaller tech led law firms to take market share. Trouble is the good ones get acquired. EY will destroy Riverview Law.



The first paragraph actually made me laugh out loud! Everyone is fully aware of the working hours at US firms – they can’t get any longer! I think they’ll be ok with the salary going up to accommodate the hours.



The big 4 can’t even handle audit.



For those of us who decided the dollar wasn’t worth the sacrifice, the solution was in-house or leaving law altogether, not doing the same job for shitter clients.

Ultimately, whilst there are plenty of people willing to hack the hours for very good money in their 20s (seems likely) and a handful of psychos prepared to hack the hours for exceptional money their whole working life (a sizeable minority of my cohort would merrily shag their boss and send the footage to their spouse if it advanced their career), the model works.



Are MC/US partners rude to trainees?



I was at Slaughters, which is a bit different in lots of ways. Partners weren’t rude to trainees generally, in fact they’re often overly polite to everyone in that weird Michael Gove way, but I think that’s a quirk of the particular firm. A lot of unquestioning sacrifice was certainly expected of trainees.

Speaking to colleagues (I’m in financial services, so about half come from A&O or CC with the rest from other MC, mid-Atlantic, elite US or SC firms) I think that in other firms it depends on the particular partner, but some are downright rude.

Culture wise I get the impression CC, FBD and the elite US firms are least bothered about partners being foul to trainees (and associates and each other). The worst I’ve experienced directly was a not particularly well known Kirkland partner (probably still salaried at the time) who was absolutely appalling to everyone, including his own team, on an all parties call. It was so bad that a superstar Goldman partner, who hardly takes prisoners, called him out on it. Very awkward all round.



I was rude to a partner who was rude to me and was promptly sent for a “catch-up” with HR. Eat my fist arsehole.





Agree that FBD is uncivilised, unless of course it is to condescend a trainee from a low socio-economic background, in which case they marginalise the trainee for not being ‘one of us’.



“Culture wise I get the impression CC, FBD and the elite US firms are least bothered about partners being foul to trainees (and associates and each other).”

Agree with this. I’m at LL and practically never heard of outright rudeness from partners, whereas CC trainees seem to accept being screamed at and verbally abused as being part of the job.



Also at LL in what would be considered one of the more brutal teams in terms of work-life balance and there is certainly no culture of abuse by Partners. The MC shouldn’t be lumped together. CC has its origins as an aggresive mid-market firm that, impressively, moved up the food chain and it has imbued an “excellence at all costs” ethos.


Freshfields is similarly aggressive. It seems like the more ‘compensating’ firms of the magic circle have a greater sense of entitlement over their subordinates.


Maybe it counts as journalism if I rewrite an FT article…



And everyone will get a unicorn in these new firms. In fact a firm where everyone gets a new unicorn would be more likely than this made up bollocks.


Steven Seagull

Within 10-15 years AI will be operating with an IQ-equivalent of 500+ or more. The human brain will be be easily surpassed. A simple small computer box will be able to dispense all legal advice require and handle thousands of matters in a second.

The tech revolution will place humans in the position that the horse was in after the industrial revolution.



Hours don’t get longer…they’re still 60minutes derrrr! Ffs FT



Hours get really long when you work with toxic c*nts



Such a stupid article. Why would any lawyer, who is already getting rogered in exceptional fashion, not want a pay rise due a “risk of encouraging extreme working conditions”? More money immediately please.



This is nonsense. I work in a US firm, the hours are crap, I made my choice to do this in my early career years, and making the pay higher isn’t going to radically shift the culture any further than it already has been.



People in US firms work hard, people in Addleshaw Goddard work hard in like for like or similar areas. Mid-market UK firms are a con.



Trump has just authorised a 2 billion lease of some land in Poland to build a military base and have them host 1000 or so U S soldiers.

The US has run at war economy levels since approx 1950, according to Gore Vidal. Trump is turning out to be a hawk.

It would not surprise me if US firms are dealing with the prep for ww3. Someone will have got that lease, someone will get the litigation or re financing of oil tankers following the iranian attacks on a few recently.

Addleshaws and such like will be dealing with HS 2. It is still a good living, and there’s no need to live like a spook.

Alex is backing Corbyn, but from Tom Bower’s book recently, he means a Seamus Milne led government. Corbyn comes across as a puppet in the book, he goes into meetings and reads out scripts to the assembled. It is a shame.

Socialism also needs big infrastructure projects or wars tied to it to make it worthwhile to the Davos brigade, as happened with Mao and Stalin , and that will keep the us firms in work. A european army is being readied, perhaps it will play Trotsky v Trump.

Hopefully Alex has tuned out and this will survive the weekend…






Seamus Milne is the Karl Rove figure behind Corbyn.

Westminster school educated, son of a one time head of the BBc.

The book, dangerous hero, shows that sm is the brains at the top of the labour party.

He Corbyn , mcdonell and one or two others come across as what i call Davos communists. They believe in revolution, not democracy, and with that , war. Civil, like Mao and Stalin, we dont know, or international, like Roosevelt, we dont know, but as sure as Trotsky, their hero, is not John, Jesus or Peter, they are Davos men and, as such, are no more likely to starve U S lawfirms of work than did Mao or Stalin.

Alex thinks Corbyn will be a threat to the highest paying us firms, if you can keep up. I am demonstrating why he is wrong.



Bruh pass me da blunt wud u


You need to be drinking hemp protein shakes and getting fit and strong, not smoking it !


Based on the comments on here, essentially every law firm other than the MC/American firms is shit. Lololol there’s more to life than work



I think the point is that mid level is a con – loads expected from you for significantly less renumeration. Especially the case outside of London. In house seems to be the only way out – but call me out if there’s genuinely a good compromise out there!


Kirkland NQ

Pfft, peasants.



The big issue these salaries really raise is how the high paying firm’s models will survive come the next crash when the work starts drying up. The grim reality is there are going to be crushing numbers of redundancies. How else can partners prop up the PEP?



How many hours would a person actually work in a week at at top US firm like Kirkland, Skadden, Latham etc or a Magic circle firm? Is there a significant different between the two? Is 60 hours a week realistic?



Anecdotally, my friends who left my MC firm for US firms are working dramatically harder. But it’s not necessarily that different – MC hours can still be terrible. It seems to me that most MC people do brutal hours but it is usually in waves (so you do get a week or two respite every couple of months usually). US firms tend to be consistently and permanently brutal. There’s plenty of people who have the opposite experience of course. It’s hard to say.



You know what’s hard? Maintaining an Insta account and being a top lawyer like me.



I work 70 hours a week at a US firm. I barely have time to see my boyfriend. I am sure he is sleeping with somebody else. I am really sad.



Cool story brah, changed my life.



Get your trainee to do it. They are also useful for the daily tinder trawl.


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