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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This confirms Freshfields’ position as the best firm in the magic circle.



CC haven’t cut NQ salaries either, and paid chunky bonuses.



It confirms Freshfields are losing the most lawyers to the US firms, that’s all.



There’s a particular US firm notorious for desperately trying to attract MC lawyers that is shedding lawyers right now, so I wouldn’t be too sure about that!!


Salary slave

Hilarious that keeping the salary at the same level is now a market leading move.

They just kept it the same, the normal thing to do…

I’d only be impressed if anyone increased it further.



this only confirms Freshfields ego is too big and they may pay for that


Showround @ Bakers

LC blocking comments again I see…


4th seat hsf trainee

Notes about HSF

1. Their NQ salary is 90k – not 93k or any other misleading total comp number the firm pumps out.
2. Their 4th seat trainees are still going to be on trainee salary once they qualify (the lucky ones that do – retention rate will likely be 60-70%). So this announcement is obvs good for the current NQs but the 4th seat trainees are getting fucked.




Mad how quickly and easily people believe these rumours. Someone labels themselves “4th seat hsf trainee” and the people take their word as gospel


HSF Equity Partner

Take your meds son and breathe.


Big d—k Lathy

You should have made yourself a better candidate and applied for a top US firm then love.
Shit choices=shit outcomes.


HSF trainee

Back to your notes fresher, final couple of exams coming up.



5:57pm, if you are so unhappy why not take one of the many other better paying jobs that are not available in the current market? Typical of the sort that were demanding higher salaries when the market was on the way up but who moan when market forces are not in their favour.


HSF 4th Seater

You are wrong. I admit 4th seaters are very much being kept in the dark, but I can categorically confirm that we have been told nothing about staying on trainee salary. Don’t believe everything you read, folks!


Reality Check

What is more questionable is what’s happening to juniors and mid-levels at HSF – the average 3PQEs isn’t earning what they claim is ‘total comp’ for NQs


The mystic square

This will either work out very well for FF or they will severely regret this later down the line. time will tell.

Still Surprised Slaughters significantly cut their Nq pay. Shows they’re not quite the top dog they think they are…


FF trainee

It’s called playing it safe. I’m sure 98% of people would rather take a pay cut than get cut at qualification.



‘Significantly’ – 5k out of 92k is about 5.5%. I know lawyers aren’t famed for maths but…

I’d rather be a S&M 4th seat on a negligible amount less than one at a firm where retention stats reveal 1/4 or 1/3 got cut. Not only in case I was cut myself, but the overall culture. Survivors and subsequent intakes will generally be shitting themselves if firms start wielding the axe.



@Anon When you take into account no bonuses will be being paid out for the foreseeable future it probably does become more significant.


In the know

@anon number 1 we will see if you are still saying this when FF retention revealed…



DLA cut London NQ salary by £2k (as they’ve frozen everyone else’s salaries so otherwise there wouldn’t be any difference between NQ and 1PQE pay)

Only about 60% retention in London too.



Looks like being the number 1 firm for M&A throughout Covid-19 has its benefits… #ELITE


First Year Open Day Candidate



Parcel Fish

This is happening at the same time as they are eviscerating their paralegal department. Sh*t definitely rolls downhill at FBD.

If they are maintaining the salary for NQ (which looks a lot like pig headedness) we can infer the retention rate will fall.



Eviscerating the department seems a so harsh. Could they not just fire them? I suppose it might keep others in line, though even decimation might have achieved that with fewer casualties.


Parcel Fish

It’s more like an inverted decimation. Maybe ten percent of the team left after last year? In London at least. Most of the paralegal work is being done by the law hub up in Manchester now.

In practice they simply don’t renew their contracts (which tend to be on a six month rolling basis).



Hogan Lovells will not increase 2nd year trainees salaries and have cut NQ salaries to 85K



Good move from FF – how many pennies are other firms actually scraping together by cutting 30 people’s salary by 5k (150k). That’s less than a single mid level associate or probably what a partner makes in a month



That’s… not how it works. You have to consider the running future cost not just the immediate. The small cuts some firms are making are allowing people to keep their jobs. You’ll see the little man/business professionals getting screwed over by the firms not thinking this through properly. Watch FF, they’re already not renewing contracts and I expect stealth layoffs of business services staff. May not matter to you but it’s not exactly the ‘moral’ and right decision it’s being made out to be. In addition, the MC firms have bigger cohorts than 30.



Why did legal cheek delete my comment alerting people to the fact that the firms not making minor cuts to their lawyers are laying off loads of their business staff? Paid sponsorship by Freshfields?


Sausage Simp

I heard on the grapevine that three paralegals in London are not having their contracts renewed this month because the mandate they were working on has had it’s trial date pushed back. Surely it would have been more appropriate to furlough? Utterly callous.



“Magic circle” what a joke…

Anyone who believes they are magicians or in some kind of magic circle is really showing they lack any intellectual weight or any common sense.

These law firms are tiny when compared to the professional accounting firms and incompetence and overcharging and the dog eat dog approach of the retention rates shows that the law simply turns all lawyers into being “intellectual prostitutes”

And at least prostitutes don’t sell their minds as well as their bodies as lawyers do representing 95% of the time the worst dregs in society…

Anyone going into law usually has no moral compass after a year or two which is why so many hate law and turn to drugs and alcohol or fall into depression.

90% of lawyers want out but can’t. After all what other job could they do when they’ve paid £50-100k just to qualify other than a supermarket stacker or a call centre worker.

Legal skills are not business skills as no one in the real world wants an argumentative negative prima Donna with no common sense, no moral compass and dishonesty writ large in their attitudes due to the constant attempts simply to fleece all clients every minute of every day to keep utilisation rates up



Why are you here? Move on, you sound so bitter.


Billy Bants

How many years have you been a paralegal then? Pure bants.



Lol the quality of grad at the Big Four is unbelievably varied – they take a hell of a lot of bang average 2:2 candidates (granted, this is bound to happen when you recruit every applicant each year). These shops are propped up by shoddy audit work (won by way of reputation and statutory requirement) and throwing 20 clueless grads at a problem and selling it as ‘consulting’. What kind of quality organisation lets people fail at least two professional exams?

Re incompetence and morality cc: Patisserie Valerie, BHS, Carillion, Thomas Cook, Saatchi, etc. etc.

Cheers for the laugh this morning, fella.



This is very true, the amount of donuts I know who made it into the big 4 would not have a chance in hell of securing a top TC (let alone because you need a decent 2:1 to begin with)



Are you a bitter recruiter with an LL.B (with criminology) from a crap uni? Sounds like it.


there there

I honestly cannot say anything against what you wrote because your ignorance will
shadow any argument… I just want to say that this is one of the maddest comments I’ve read in a while; get well soon!



Kirkland said to be raising NQ salary to 175k, Latham likely to follow.



Where did you hear that 😯
Different leagues of money deary me



Pipe down with the BS.

US firm salaries are depending upon what their NYC office does and given these recently rose to $190k (circa £150k) this is not happening any time soon.


Not Joe

LOL Joe is the same person also writing on ROFL and desperately trying to promote Kirkland. Looks like the recruitment/HR department have a lot of spare time on their hands!

Looks like the word of what’s going on at Kirkland at the moment is indeed spreading…


Latham NQ

Lmao utter BS, f*ck off you joker



Kirkland = Stealth Layoffs



Once retention rates becomes clear, I think some people with think differently about FF, HSF etc. maintaining pay.



I’m at a shop which cut pay and has shoddy retention this year. Then they tell us we’re in a strong financial position compared to the rest of the market.



I think if it can help ensure enough work to retain a good portion of 4th seaters as NQs, firms should consider deferring some of their trainees. Wouldn’t that make sense? I know the kind of work/responsibility is different but still.



An all night rave. An all night disco rave. Except there is no music. There are no ravers. There is just the cold glare of a monitor and thousands of documents left to review.

Welcome to your future.


Don't delete

I love how it takes reporting from either RoF or Lawyer 2B to get clear answers to speculation that arise on this “website”



It is a hard market. Everyone knows the bottom line matters, but hope firms realise they have a duty of care to their trainees to help onto NQ – no one will take lateral NQs right now. Even a 70% retention rate is terrible in this market because that 30% won’t be getting jobs elsewhere and are just being made unemployed until the market picks up which might not until mid-2021. Firms shouldn’t be taking trainees just as cheap labour, and the firms which lay off their fourth seaters will destroy their reputation in the market for associate laterals.


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