Open thread: What are magic circle firms REALLY paying their newly qualified lawyers?

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Help us fill the gaps by sharing your insider salary info below the line

It’s been another summer of hefty pay rises for junior lawyers across the City.

With Freshfields upping newly qualified (NQ) solicitor base rates to £100,000 back in May, it didn’t take long for the other members of the magic circle to splash the cash and seemingly match the Anglo-German giant’s big money move.

But who among the City’s elite fivesome is really paying the most?

Well, unfortunately, this question has become increasingly difficult to answer, with many City players (not just members of the magic circle) now preferring not to disclose their base rates, opting instead to provide a salary figure inclusive of bonus.

The 2019 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Motivations for doing so aside, the new approach has not gone down well with Legal Cheek readers. One commenter wrote: “All firms should be obligated to advertise base salaries excluding any bonuses. The current trend of throwing in every bonus under the sun is very misleading.” Another chipped in: “The reality is that there is the ability to earn that amount, not a manifest right to it.”

By way of a reminder, here’s the salary information which has been made public:

Magic circle NQ money moves 2019

Firm New salary base rate Bonus
Allen & Overy Not given Sign-on bonus takes salary to £100,000
Clifford Chance Not given Discretionary bonus takes salary to £100,000
Freshfields £100,000 Discretionary bonus available on top of £100,000
Linklaters Not given Discretionary performance bonus takes salary to £100,000
Slaughter and May £92,000 Bonuses of around 8.5% take salary to over £100,000

So in a bid to shine a light on the fresh figures, we’re calling on our readers, many of whom will work for the firms in question, to share their insider knowledge in the Legal Cheek comments section below.

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Linklaters base at 95k



From September…


The Little Lawyer that Could

I was promised a magic wand and 2lbs of pick ‘n’ mix every week for a year on my training contract!

The firm (a Legal Aid outfit in Doncaster) tells me they are a Magic Circle firm, hence the wand.

I got the Pick ‘n’ mix, but I’m still waiting for my wand.

They say I’ve got to really want it for the magic to happen.



U high blud ?



It’s Doncaster. Not much else to do.


The SM bonus is not yet determined. All we know is that NQs will take home at least £100k. This is a floor not a ceiling.



It’s not a floor if the base is 92. Moron.


SM Catering

Lmao someone got their jimmies rustled. How is it not a floor if it’s been declared as a minimum?



Because if it was actually a floor, it would be the base. Inherently, by the very concept, a “bonus” cannot be universally guaranteed – if it were, it would not be necessary to call it a “bonus” – the base would just be 100.



In practice, 99% SandM bonuses are guaranteed


Whats the difference between ceiling and roof salary?


It’s not really a minimum is it though. If it’s Salary+Bonus to make a minimum of £100,000, that bonus component has to be tied to something, probably the firm hitting it’s own revenue/profit targets.

If that were not the case, then there would be no sense in using the language they did use.



ALso you’ll need to be there the whole year to earn the bonus.


It is a floor. It’s the guaranteed minimum.



Our most junior tenant is on £225k. But I reassured her that it will pick up quite quickly.


Bob the goat manager

But – chambers rent (20% or thereabouts..). Then expenses. Tax deductible yes. But not at 100%. Then there is a pension to consider. Other perks. Dnetal and medical insurance. Payment protection insurance.

That takes your most junior tenant down a bit!

You must be in a top commercial chambers. Assuming your most junior tenant is just out of pupillage they are earning very well indeed. But then again, a top commercial chambers is the correct comparator for the firms in this article.



Common law juniors can fairly easily make over £100,000 working a four day week.



Yes, and no. Most junior tenants at very good Commercial and Commercial Chancery sets will earn far more than an associate at a top law firm (MC or US). Even if the above numbers are correct, I do not think they are the correct comparator as top law firms and top chambers are not recruiting the same candidates.

MC firms alone recruit 500+ trainees a year. Most very good Commercial and Commercial Chancery sets recruit 2-4 pupils a year, at most. For example, if you compare the CV of a new tenant at somewhere like Essex Court, South Square, Erskine or Wilberforce against an NQ at A&O, Kirkland, Freshfields you will (on average) see a vast gulf in experience and academic achievement. The average NQ at these firms will have a decent 2.1 from a decent university. They will probably also had some very decent extra-currriculars (university sports team, law society committee etc.) In contrast, the average new tenant at a very good Commercial and Commercial Chancery set will usually have a top First (typically from Oxbridge), and will have won every academic prize going since they were in school. They often have master degrees and PHDs.

They are not comparable.



WhY DoNt yOU JuSt MaRRy tHe BaRRiSters iF u LOVE tHeM soOoO MUCH!?!?



I had such fun the other day sliding down the barrister.


Quite. You can’t compare your average trainee at a top City firm to a pupil at a leading Commercial/Chancery Chambers. The latter will be far, far brighter and better educated. (Which explains why he/she is at the Bar, rather than photocopying and producing bundles.)



Pupils don’t exactly exactly have a whale of a time at most sets. A friend spent six months sitting in a windowless office reading over old skeleton arguments from his supervisor while the aforementioned supervisor mostly ignored him and occasionally asked him to take notes and organise sandwiches whenever he went to court. Needless to say he was not hugely impressed.


A&O 98 base



So that would mean a 2k ‘sign-on bonus’?



Yes. I don’t know why people have downvoted what I said. It’s absolutely accurate.



Because it’s not accurate.



Fuck off smart arse


Yes it is!!! You obviously don’t work at the firm.


CC anyone?



All the turds you can fish out of the poo



92k + 8k almost guaranteed bonus


Current SC trainee

You know this is anonymous right? Transparency an’ all..



100k plus bonus and an aneurysm


K&E Debt Finance Trainee

Contact me when they hit £160,000 base.



Contact me when you get more than 45 hours of sleep in a week, noob.


Kirkland NQ

Haha I don’t get that much but that’s because of my model girlfriend 😉



You know the partners are all blabbing stuff to the Lawyer about positional elections etc. for political reasons? They’d probably respect you for it.

Anyway, FBD have, quite incredibly, managed to come up smelling of roses on this one so not much I can add with any certainty.


£150k club - future trainee Milbank

NQ salaries at MC firms are £92-100k. I would rather work the same hours for 50% more pay and prestigious work at US firms.


CC Trainee

Milbank is sh*t


Mc Milbank

No it isn’t. It has top tier practices in leveraged finance, aircraft finance and restructuring. It has recently been aggressively hiring and London revenues are through the roof.


Skadden 1PQE



Links Night Watch

Last time I checked, Milbank pays more than Skadden?


check again then retard


Sounds like you are a student reading the legal press and not someone who works at Milbank or a US firm. The legal press report Milbank being pegged to the dollar, the reality is that it is not and is just over £130k.

Links Night Watch

Sorry to burst your bubbles, but you nephews should get back to your coursework. Recruiters report Milbank as 143 and Skadden as 130+.

If there’s one thing the legal press does report wrongly, it is salaries at Latham, which aren’t really 143.


What’s the NQ rate at Latham?


I get that everyone on LC is in love with Latham and Kirkland, but seriously though can’t you be a bit more objective, banter and all?

There are many great firms out there that offer amazing opportunities for their trainees and associates. An added cherry on top is getting 30-50% at US firms than you would at their MC counterparts, even if the work might be slightly in the MC’s favour in terms of prestige here and there.

Take Fried Frank for example. Small office, great salary (130k+), hear only positive things about them. If you get into a place like that, youre set for your early adult life without question.

Fried Frank

I am in the asset management team there and it’s a great place to work. Nice culture, great money. Just as good as anywhere else.


Lmao aviation finance top quality megadolla






I get that everyone on LC is in love with Latham and Kirkland, but seriously though can’t you be a bit more objective, banter and all?

There are many great firms out there that offer amazing opportunities for their trainees and associates. An added cherry on top is getting 30-50% at US firms than you would at their MC counterparts, even if the work might be slightly in the MC’s favour in terms of prestige here and there.

Take Fried Frank for example. Small office, great salary (130k+), hear only positive things about them. If you get into a place like that, youre set for your early adult life without question.



If you train at Fried Frank you’ll get the worst of both worlds – zero formal training AND limited exposure to a variety of different sorts of deals (you probably won’t see any public M&A at all, for instance). Plus they’ll probably push you out of the door at 3PQE when you aren’t billing enough because they’ve only budgeted for retaining two members of your training class beyond then and you’re surplus to requirements.



Ageeed! We should all give our annual bonuses to Palestinian charities.



We need a labour government to tax all these ridiculously high MC salaries. Earning over £100,000 at 24 is crazy.



Piss off you communist scum. Tax rate should be 1% for lawyers, doctors and investment bankers.



I just qualified into the Corporate team at CC Dubai office. So sweet keeping all my salary and not sharing it with peasants.


Ban Private Schools

You sound like a vile Oxbridge grad…



You sound like a troll



You sound like my hero. I have an option to go to my firm’s Dubai office – what’s cost of living like compared to London (social requirements for supercars and yachts aside).


Certa cito

It depends on lifestyle. I went over in January to run the Dubai marathon, as an excuse to recce the place for a potential long-term future move (if Brexit/Corbyn further damage the UK and/or if tax or NI increase yet further). Friends who I caught up with who have lived there for some time, and several partners who they introduced me to for advice, suggested that rent, food and alcohol all feel expensive. That said, rent isn’t cheap in London, either. The main disadvantage cited by most was distance from family: this, perhaps obviously, was more an issue for those with children, and thus grandparents in the UK. (Of course, if you don’t like your family, this may be an opportunity.)

Much will depend on your lifestyle: I’m very dull and don’t drink (I’m already a slower runner than I’d like to be, I can’t slow myself down further ;), so I’m not fussed about drinks costs, for example. For quantitative (objective) rather than qualitative (subjective) data, and to allow you to disaggregate factors which you may care more/less about, these two sites are useful for comparisons:


Not CC, but did a secondment in Dubai.

Depending on the area you stay in, rent for a 1 bed will range from AED 50k – 100k a year. Rents are also dropping, and a few associates also share flats – fairly rare though, it’s more to combat loneliness than it is to save.

Depending on if you’re happy to take the metro (most people don’t for some reason), transport can take from anywhere between AED 300 (monthly metro pass + 4/5 cab rides) to about AED 1200 if you travel by taxi everywhere. If you stay there long term, getting a car is probably a good idea.

If you cook, food shouldn’t be more than AED 1000 a month max. If you don’t, there are pretty cheap places with decent food for under AED 25 and your typical expensive meals for above AED 100. No real estimate here, sorry.

That’s really it. For entertainment, plenty of people go to brunches every weekend and drop AED 800 – 1000 every weekend on drinks and clubs, and plenty of people just have 1 drink and go golfing, chill at friends places etc. Same as London really.

Most people I spoke to saved a ton, and unless you’re financially very irresponsible, you should be able to save too. It’s very much a lifestyle question instead – unless you already know people/make friends you actually like (I.e. don’t just become friends because you’re lawyers and British and work in the same area), the lifestyle can become a bit too vapid. If you meet the right people though, it’s the same as most places (albeit with fewer things to do than in London) and a lot more cash in hand.

How good a move it is career wise is another question to consider.


Dubai is a cultural black hole filled with the worst of mediocre wide boys from the UK and the Sub-Continent. Only those with no soul could live there and not feel their life is less lived.


Dubai is for professional failures. It is where people go who can’t make it in London. (Even the MC/SC/top US firms send their second-raters there.)


I smell a salty legal aid/crim barrister.



You get a free territory in the Middle East as a bonus?

You got a piss poor deal there. You should have argued for one of the gulf states.


Hugh Heftner




@LegalCheek, can we have a similar thread for silver circle firms? Big discrepancies in pay uplift at City outfits for NQs across the board.

Info on the 1-3 year PQE adjustments would be helpful too. I received a 1k uplift from the new NQ rate this year – relative to the old NQ rate it wasn’t a bad bump, but given it’s only 1k above the new NQ rate, it’s actually pretty crap.



Contact me when the money moves hit the regions. Struggling to break £42k here in 0161, forget £100k.



The regions are dying, bail now if you can



Does this really matter? By the time you’ve been bent over and taken to brown town by the state’s ludicrous tax rates, the difference of several thousand pounds per annum will make such a marginal difference.

The difference between £100,000 and £140,000 however…



The difference between £100k and £140k is exactly the point at which the personal allowance tapers away. After tax it’s about a £15k difference.



The big difference is 1-6 years PQE, and the NQ figures are a red herring.

At MC/UK firms, the uplift each year appears to be relatively small, and salaries sit within the income bracket where there is an effective 60% tax rate between £100-c£125k, making that uplift significantly smaller post-tax.

Conversely, US NQs start outside of that income bracket (i.e. generally >£125k), the pay increases are larger (generally +£10k salary and +£10k bonus year-on-year) and are subject to 40/45% tax rather than 60%.



Bang on. Don’t see why you’ve been downvoted.


Cliford Chance Trainee



Junior Junior Tenant

Can you please do this for the Bar… genuinely.


Seasoned QC

There is no average at the bar due to the flexibility of working hours available. From what I was told by the clerks, the baby juniors do whatever work the clerks give them in their first 3-5 years. It may be possible to make an estimation of what they earn within that period as flexibility is really not an option at the junior end. However, the earning estimation’s top and bottom scale could be a difference of £100k. On top of all that, the work offered at different chambers vary with specialism (I suspect a shipping junior would make much more than a junior at a property set).


Not a top chancery set

£320k gross. 5 years in. Long hours but enjoyable



The figures cited here for a new tenant even at one of the MC sets is very punchy indeed. A peer and close friend of mine who I met when doing the BVC is at a MC set doing almost exclusively arbitration work, which is very much premium.

He tells me that pupils just taken on are billing 100-150, with the higher figure being for those who get lucky, and are briefed as second or third junior on a commercial case in the high court. Mostly at between 1and 4 years , post pupillage baby juniors are doing employment cases, and the like as there is a concerted effort to get them in to court doing their own advocacy.

250k-450k is probably the sweet spot at or about 6 -15 years call where it tapers off unless and until one gets silk, or is already genuinely doing silk work as a senior junior. Remember these are billings and not receipts , every Bazza at these sets, within the 1-15 year call range will have a not insignificant amount of aged debt.

Certainly those at 1-6 years call at the top civil common law sets can compete with their commercial cousins in terms of billings , but they will work unbelievably hard in doing so . The best PI, clin neg , prof neg and employment sets you make comparable billings in the first six years or so but it is bloody hard work .
Another contemporary of mine was at a top PI and employment set and he billed 120 k in year one. The bar Council recently released a report citing barrister earnings , and from recollection there was only 500 who billed more than 500k. I thought it would be significantly more






Thats a more honest assessment. NQs will out earn junior barristers up to about 3 years call. You might bill £100k in your first year out of pupillage, but you’ll probabley only get paid maybe £70k of it, so be left with maybe £60k before tax in terms of money actually paid. Second year as your aged debt feeds through you could well recieve £150k, but still similar to a £100k salary after the practice costs and less favourable pension terms are taken account of. Even as a barrister in a commercial set it will take you a couple of years before year earn more than a NQ at a MC firm. But then you will overtake them very quickly.

Only about 10% of pupillages are in commercial sets and 75% of applicants never get pupillage at all. Doing mixed common law / crime / family, you’d probabley only bill £50k in your first year and get maybe £30k of it. It would probabley take 5 years to get your income up to the level of an NQ. That said you do have a lot more freedom than an employee in a firm and wouldn’t be doing anything like the hours.

The Bar isn’t the money tree, LC likes to make out however. Median income is £67k and only 10% (including silks & seniors) make over £200k. For every 100 people at Bar School 1 or 2 may be taken on by a top commercial set another 20 odd will get pupillage at a common law set and the rest of will not get pupillage at all. About 70% of those who do will be taken on as tennants, so a lot less than 1% will actually become commercial practitoners.

Most solicitors will earn more than most barristers.



CC base 92k
Binary Bonus guaranteed at 8k (unless you’re really shet)


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