Clifford Chance is latest magic circle firm to cut NQ solicitor pay

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Follows moves made by Slaughters and A&O

Clifford Chance is the latest magic circle firm to cut the salaries of its newly-qualified (NQ) solicitors as the unravelling of last summer’s City pay war continues.

Solicitors qualifying in September 2020 will receive a total pay package of up to £94,500 with bonus, approximately £5,500 less than last year’s six-figure sum. CC previously bumped NQ pay from £91,000 to £100,000, comprised of salary and bonus, following the 2019 summer City pay war. The firm does not report its NQ base salary.

CC also confirmed that trainee solicitor pay remains unaffected — £48,000 in year one, rising to £54,000 in year two.

Today’s news comes less than 24 hours after we reported that fellow magic circle player Allen & Overy has reduced NQ pay from a minimum of £100,000, comprised of salary and sign-on bonus, to £90,000. Meanwhile, Slaughter and May confirmed a month ago that its NQs will earn £87,000, a reduction on the £92,000 base salary.

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Freshfields, however, has decided against an NQ salary cut and will continue to pay its rookie talent £100,000. Linklaters is understood to be still considering its NQ pay position.

Last summer saw all five elite firms boost annual NQ salaries to at least £100,000 in competition with the London offices of US law firms.

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This is particularly poor because, as mentioned early in the article “The firm does not report its NQ base salary”. Instead it does this trendy but imo completely unacceptable trick of reporting a combined base and bonus take-home which is, to put it very mildly, misleading.

So we do not know base, but we know it will be considerably below 94.5k. If CC are sitting on a base NQ salary of c. 80k (perhaps even less), that puts them definitively below the rest of the magic circle, likely below a lot of the “silver circle” firms. Embarrassing.


Not Again

Team, why don’t I get the ball rolling for today?

The ‘land is an evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet. The things that are going on there, whoa, you wouldn’t believe. So many things. Don’t believe the AmLaw figures or Chambers bands. Fake news. The people who know, they know the things. I can’t say any more. LC won’t report because of secret reptile funding.


Again and again

Agreed – Magic Circle firms are just being more transparent and honest about it.



The bonus element is at least guaranteed at CC unlike many other firms that do the same trick.



Exactly this, when it says ‘up to’ at CC, it means that’s actually what you’ll get unless you’re really poor at the job and need to be performance managed.


Big if true

Sure big shot CC guy, sure. We all believe you. Don’t let those bullies tell you you’re an underpaid loser. There there.



Weird response? You def get a bonus at CC unless you need to be performance managed out. Get back to your revision will you.


Except it isn’t c.£80k. It’s actually just shy of £90k.



Yeah yeah CC trainee, let’s just hope you get a job, yeah, then you can impress us all with your 80k salary.



The Magic Circle are being more honest and transparent about cuts, and also saving jobs.



NQs are being paid a fortune. Whilst it’s important for firms to stay competitive, it’s more important for trainees and NQs to recognise environments where they can get the best training and knowledge in order to have the most successful careers. All firms need to consider offering more in terms of future career paths and prospects. It’s quite shocking the small pay differential between an NQ and an 8 year qualified. There needs to be a correction.



In 2018, my base NQ salary was £83.5k and the “binary” bonus amounted to £7k.



So you agree. CC pays silver circle (at best) levels.



I agree with you Dean. I’m not sure whether the “binary” bonus has increased since 2018 but NQs and 1PQEs either received a bonus of £7,000 or nothing.



The binary bonus has been increased. When CC says up to, it means that’s what you’ll get unless they need to performance manage you. I for one think that’s fair – if you’re rubbish at your job your don’t deserve a bonus.

Future trainee

No silver circle firm comes close to any of the MC.


Furloughed Legal Assistant with a Westlaw certificate

Really waiting for the likes of Kirkland, Akin Gump, Fried, and S&C to follow this ridiculous trend, report their NQ rate in dollars including bonus, just to put the MC back in their place.

Slaughter & May: £87,000
Kirkland & Ellis: $205,000

Have your pick.



Slaughters is way ahead of Kirkland in terms of culture, quality of work, reputation, depth and breadth of practices, legal training, professional development, longevity of your legal career, rankings across all legal directories and (yes) prestige.

Pick Kirkland for the $205K and you’ll be out the door before you know it, in the end you’ll make more money by sticking it out at Slaughters. Choosing on the basis of your criteria is very short sighted.


Welcome to the 2020s

Who’s ranked higher in restructuring? Kirkland, band 1
Who’s ranked higher in investment funds? Kirkland, band 1
Who’s ranked higher in private equity M&A? Kirkland, band 1
Who’s ranked higher in acquisition finance? Kirkland, band 1

I’d happily take that plus 205k as NQ (going up to 440k by 7 PQE).

Slaughters is “way ahead” if the work you want is advising publicly listed English plcs buy and merge with other publicly listed English plcs. Although given the trend of take privates by PE over the last 2-3 years, the American firms are increasingly good at that work too.




Live in your own delusional little bubble. You’re probably one of those who couldn’t get in or make a career at Slaughters and to whom Kirkland (whose standards are much lower) has given you a life line.

You’ve selectively chosen “band 1s” where Kirkland has also been given lower bands in many publications.

If you knew anything about Legal Directory rankings you’d know how US firms inflate their descriptions etc and that they’re not a true reflection. In any event, if we had to list all of Slaughter’s rankings and accolades throughout the years and in 2020, there wouldn’t be enough space on this page.

It was good to see that Clifford Chance (just to mention another Magic Circle) was the go-to firm for Blackstone & CVC (two of the largest names in Kirkland’s supposedly area of expertise) for its deals over Kirkland and many others.

So much for your b*ll***t rankings and ego. Even Bx & CVC can see that it’s not worth paying those fees for second rate advice.

If you want to quote rankings then quote all of them

Slaughter’s rankings in just one of the Legal Directories (Legal 500) and not selectively picking and choosing like what’s been done above by “2020”:

Band 1

Corporate Tax

EU and Competition


Regulatory Investigations and Corporate Crime

Banking Litigation: Investment and retail

Competition Litigation

Tax Litigation and Investigations

Bank Lending: Investment Grade Debt and Syndicated Loans

Employee Share Schemes


Insurance: Corporate and Regulatory


Band 2

Commercial Contracts

Equity Capital Markets

Financial Services (contentious)

Financial Services (non-contentious/regulatory)

Commercial Litigation

Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency

Debt Capital Markets

Structured Products and Securitisation

Infrastructure (including PFI and PPP)

Commercial Property (General/Corporate Occupiers)

Commercial Property (Development)

Commercial Property (Hotels and Leisure)

Commercial Property (Investment)


IT and Telecoms


Their salary (minus bonus) is c. £90k I believe.



It no longer makes sense to speak of the Magic Circle. Freshfields and Slaughter and May are still Top Tier, but other so-called Magic Circle firms are now clearly in the Second Tier, along with the likes of HSF.



Enjoying furlough too much eh? Since when did some bumpkin decide what is top tier or not.



There is no doubt that FBD is prestigious, especially considering it is excellent in corporate AND disputes. Maybe it is the most prestigious of the MC. However, it is widely known as being a horrible place to work. Just saying.


I said what I said

Yeah and it’s sooo much better to work at S&M, CC and blah blah blah – NOT.

Babe, there’s always going to be a problem no matter where you work. The corporate environment it toxic so might as well get paid top $$$.

FF also has a decent retention rate with their Sep intake. You heard it here first.



Not true, I work at CC and it’s a decent place to work. Freshfields is a sweatshop in comparison. Wouldn’t work there for the sake of a tiny pay rise.



I have friends at every magic circle and work at one myself, and from the stories everyone tells it is incredibly obvious that FBD and CC have absolutely horrific cultures compared to the other three. Seems like everyone at those two have stories of being screamed at or belittled, which is rare enough at the other three that I have never heard of it happening (though of course it probably does from time to time).

From my own experience as well, we typically add 10k to the quote when CC are on the other side of a deal, because of how incredibly unpleasant and difficult to work with most of their seniors and partners are.



This is utter nonsense. CC is one of the best firms for culture, the people are genuinely really nice. Slaughters is toxic AF, very stuffy and traditional.

Also, how can people say a firm with more Tier 1 rankings than any other firm in the WORLD isn’t a Tier 1/Magic circle firm just because they’ve reduced pay so that salaries don’t get bunched up due to pay freezes (which pretty much every firm is doing)? You sound idiotic.


@Anon – have you ever worked at Slaughters or are you just rehashing stereotypes that you’ve read in a LC comments section?

Different Anon

@Trainee – I did a vac scheme at Slaughters several years ago and there were issues about entering the lifts while certain senior partners were in them. Since then it’s been hilarious listening to people pretend Slaughters has a normal culture.


@Anon 4:04 I never said CC isn’t a MC firm. If you actually think it has a good culture I can only assume you either don’t work there or you are one of the ocean going Nimitz class bellends that infest it. I think the second is less likely because most juniors at CC are actually really nice and just get ground down by all the screaming and politics.

S&M has a weird culture. You have to let women into the lift first, and then partners, before you get in, but on the other hand you aren’t likely to be bullied or put down unlike CC and FBD, so all around a much better place to work.


Elaborate please? For the sake of a potential future applicant.


Anonymously anonoymous

Do your own research ‘applicant’


Someone who actually works there

You evidently don’t work there because this is utter bullsh*t


I said what I said

I do work at FF but sorry to hear you had a **** time. Working there is not easy at all.

Corporate life is all a game – if you play it right, you’ll win. A lot of people don’t understand this or refuse to accept this fact. That’s why they end up hating the job or being pushed out. They always told you it would be hard work. The problem is that people who outside of the firm have no idea what it means. They weren’t lying to you, your idea was seriously skewed.

Also, the Corporate life is not for everyone. MC firms (FF included) is full of idiots who decide to stay there because “it’s a good job, so no point in looking elsewhere”. If you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen… you know where the door is.



Get over yourself you muppet

Managing trainee

Not sure what’s ‘Magic’ about these firms anymore…ertainly not their pay packets



The superior quality of work and people. Not everything is about money – people on this site are pathetic.


Big if true

LOL – this person has *really* gone on the kool-aid.



This reduces the “ceiling” but does the base have a floor?


Gangster at the back of the Clapham Omnibus

MC all jumping on the bandwagon of lowering NQ comp at once so everyone looks as bad as eachother. Smart. Strong.



“total pay package of £94,500…£5,500 less than last year”




It is surprisingly little for those massive hours. Ah well, just remember after a 3-4 years of working every hour you are awake you will be earning marginally more and starting to hit the lovely 62% marginal income tax bracket.


My name is Mr Smith

This just solidifies Freshfields as the TOP MC Shop.


Former FBD Assoc

My grandad earns more through his state pension than the partners at FBD. FBD = a future highstreet firm


Been huffing glue

U high bruv ?


Former FBD Assoc

Stating fact as a former associate there. Meanwhile you’re probably an LLB student who thinks shilling for a firm you’ll never get into will give you a chance. FFB is severely overrated. Go US ASAP is my advice to all when they qualify.



Cool story brah, thx for the advice

magic circle alpha titan

The US pay is higher only to compensate from the ego dip that comes from chasing beta-ass mid market deals from your firm’s satellite office


Slaughter and May equity phatman

This lad knows where it at


Wedgely Wedge IV

Everyone at the ‘salary is base salary and bonus’ firms defo getting a bonus. A mega one. Not just base salary.



In answer to point 2, because it’s cool, can’t you understand that? My favourite celebs and sports stars are speaking out on social media so I want to get involved too.



Don’t be such a pathetic snowflake.


Lord judge

LC commenters
22 June: A&O shet silver circle, who dis etc, CC and FBD true powerhouses
23 June: CC shet silver circle, no top dolla

I’m waiting for FBD to take some new measure and have 100 professional LC commenters explain how Fieldfisher compares against FBD


Bloated equity partner

Lmao ok millenial



Unsurprising. Probably will be used to fund some more absolutely awful GR initiatives that seemingly recruit the wettest undergrads around.



Agreed – nice to know it’s not just me who finds their grad rec work beyond cringe.


Voice of Reason

Yep apparently by working at CC, you are changing the world and fighting for progressive causes such as equality, BLM and so on.

Reality: Partners are mostly conservative rich toffs, with the odd psychopath, who will work you to the bone (while treating you like rubbish) for an immaterial increase to their PPOP.



Cool story brah, thx for the insight



Lmao cool story brah



Utter bollocks. CC is one of the few top firms with a good culture.



Any word on Travers Smith?



They sure took their chance



That is an awful lot of work for very little pay.


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