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Top paying magic circle firm keeps NQ pay at £100k

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Freshfields freeze; fellow big payer HSF also declines to cut

The magic circle’s top payer is keeping its newly-qualified (NQ) solicitor salary at £100,000.

Freshfields has decided against an NQ pay cut in spite of the uncertain financial climate brought about by COVID-19.

It is expected to pay its September qualifiers the six-figure sum that rose to this level last year, leapfrogging its magic circle rivals in the NQ pay league at the time. Freshies’ big money move sparked a summer pay war among the magic circle as well as other elite City outfits.

The firm confirmed in April that it had frozen pay and suspended its quarterly partner distribution. It confirmed at the time that it had also deferred decisions on staff bonuses until later in the year. This includes NQs whom on top of their £100,000 pay packets are eligible for a discretionary bonus.

A Freshfields spokesperson commented:

“Our global talent pipeline remains a key priority for us as our business grows and as we continue to provide exceptional client services with the highest calibre teams.”

Elsewhere, NQ salaries also remain unchanged at Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). The firm is understood to be keeping NQ pay at the current rate of £105,000 — a six-figure sum comprising salary and bonus. Legal Cheek estimates that HSF’s base rate sits at around £93,000.

Today’s news comes amid rumours swirling in the Legal Cheek comments section that some elite City players are poised to cut NQ salaries, or keep their associates on trainee levels of pay post-qualification amid junior lawyer pay freezes and the suspension of salary reviews.

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Some City firms have already confirmed cuts to solicitor pay.

Slaughter and May‘s NQ base salary is down £5,000 to £87,000, while the salaries of staff at Reed Smith earning more than $100,000 (£80,000), who are not subject to other financial measures, will be reduced by 6%.

Elsewhere, solicitors, including trainees, at Osborne Clarke will see their salaries drop by 7% for a period of 11 months, while trainees at Taylor Wessing will take a 8% reduction in pay as part of a new flexible working programme.

Other firms are understood to still be umming and ahing over their NQ pay position, with reports last week suggesting that there was uncertainty among trainees at Linklaters regarding NQ pay. The magic circle player — which pays its NQs a minimum salary of £100,000 (base salary and discretionary performance bonus combined) — has since confirmed that they will not be kept on trainee pay packets upon qualification.

A spokesperson for the firm said: “Given the extraordinary economic circumstances created by the impact of COVID-19, we have not yet confirmed the salary level for this year’s NQs.”

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