US law firms hold London NQ pay steady amid COVID-19 uncertainty

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White & Case and Cleary Gottlieb opt against rises or cuts for now

The London offices of two US law firms have kept their newly-qualified (NQ) solicitor salaries at their current rates in spite of the economic headwinds brought by COVID-19.

As other City firms, including three of the magic circle, chip away at their NQ pay packets, autumn qualifiers at White & Case and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton will continue to receive six-figure-sums in line with previous years.

White & Case associates have moved through the salary and qualification levels as usual, a spokesperson from the firm said. In light of the current circumstances, W&C hasn’t taken any decisions about when and whether to increase its salaries. W&C trainees qualifying in the firm’s London office in August are set to receive the current NQ rate of £105,000 for now, the spokesperson confirmed. Their salaries rose to this level from £90,000 in 2017.

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Cleary Gottlieb has confirmed it currently has “no plans” to review NQ salaries, which were bumped by 11% to reach £133,000 in October 2019.

A spokesperson from the firm said: “Our newly qualified solicitors had their compensation raised 11% which was effective 1 October 2019. We have no plans to review salaries this year and trainees will qualify as normal in September on our standard newly qualified salaries.”

Legal Cheek understands that other US law firms are adopting a similar approach.

Freshfields and Herbert Smith Freehills, previously opted to hold their NQ pay at the same rate as last year, having raised to £100,000 (plus bonus) and up to £105,000 respectively in 2019.

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Body blow to MC.



Yeah but, no but, whatever


NQ at one of the above mentioned firms

I genuinely think lawyers across the city are not paid enough for what they do. Even people at mid tier shops like CMS NRF DLA etc should start on like 120k and then the SC , MC and US firms should be higher as corresponds.


4th seat trainee

This is true, but the economics sadly don’t allow for it.

you can work as bad hours as MC/US hours because that’s what their business model is predicated on – loads of low value deals are churned through like a sweatshop.

You may be working the same hours, but your chargeout rate will be half that of Kirkland/Latham, so there just isn’t the money to pay the higher salaries. There is also a lot of panel work, where your chargeout rate will be much lower than normal.

Add to that that starting senior associate pay so they couldn’t raise NQ salaries without raising other bands (which they don’t have the money to do because of the business model above).



Senior associate pay is unlikely to be £85k if total pay package for NQs is worth up to £87,600. It would be in the 6 figure mark if not just below that surely.

Also, I thought CMS lawyers tend to work less hours than US and MC firms with the exception of some corporate and finance deals so the lower salary balances it out?


CMS 4th seat trainee

It is £85k base for new senior associates. The whole “up to package” is disingenuous because you have to charge over 20% of your target hours to get the bonus. This isn’t billing 20% over – it’s charging the 20% to the clients. So you have to do an additional 20% beyond your target and then not have any of it written off to get the full bonus. Accordingly not many fee earners in practice get more than their base. It’s the same thing as HSF saying “you could get up to 105” – nobody will.

In terms of working hours, some teams do yes. But corporate/banking will be sweated heavily as they make up the bulk of the firm’s revenue. If you’re going into a niche area where your only competing firms will be Clyde and Co, Kennedy’s etc, then it’s a great deal. But if you’re in a team like banking where you’re competing with the likes of Kirkland and the MC, you have to pick up the slack for teams that aren’t pulling the same weight (and consequently you’re underpaid to compensate for the other teams being overpaid).



CMS don’t really compete with Kirkland and the MC though, do they.


CMS senior associates are on 85k?? Yikes


Too right, perhaps we should organise a whip round of carers and nurses to get NQs at DLA and NRF the ton plus salary they so richly deserve.



The fact that HSF pays £105k is hilarious ? as if this fools anyone



I wonder what Linklaters will do…last MC to declare their hand



They will of course lower it in line with other MC firms.

Freshfields may well advertise as 100k, but it is made up of a bonus which is also paid pro rata so is really isn’t what it seems. Same with other UK firms who role potential bonus into the headline figure. It is just stupid and misleading.

It would be like saying Kirkland pay their NQs £155,000/160,000, but they obviously don’t as it accounts for the bonus. Moronic that UK firms have tried to inflate salaries by rolling in ‘potential’ bonus figures into the headline earnings… no other industry does this. If you were advertising an associate IBD role at GS you wouldn’t advertise it as ‘earn up to £180k’, it would be advertised at £90k + discretionary bonus.

Stupid, rant over.


Fleet Street

Wrong, freshies pays £100k base and is the only MC firm to do so



Also wrong on Kirkland – they pay $190k at a spot rate, which is just over £150k currently. The bonus is in addition.



Indeed. Here is the standardCravath salary + bonus scale (in dollars) for those interested. Kirkland and certain other firms pay slightly higher bonuses than this scale. You generally need 1800 hours to get the standard bonus.

NQ = 190,000 + 15,000
1PQE = 200,000 + 25,000
2PQE = 220,000 + 50,000
3PQE = 255,000 + 65,000
4PQE = 280,000 + 80,000
5PQE = 305,000 + 90,000
6PQE = 325,000 + 100,000
7PQE = 340,000 + 100,000



So you work much longer hours than commercial barristers, get less than half their holidays, and still get paid much less?


Jesus for lawyers that is some serious dollah. Where do I hand in my soul?

Chancery barrister

Only about 300 barristers earn 500k plus and 125 barrister earn over £1m

The life of a top commercial barrister may be at the apex but only a very ting number will reach the top and earn multiple millions.

Plus, the stress of a court trial worth billions with millions in legal is difficult for most people to fathom in terms of responsibility


Chancery, the numbers in the table are in dollars. And while the Brexiteers have savaged the currency down and down, 7PQE on that table is only about £270k. Many barristers can make that it their first couple of years, and many more than you would imply are making that by the same age as a 5-7 PQE solicitor. And just wondering, how would it go down at a US firm to mention every year at the end of 29 July you were away off until September?

chancery barrister

@ anonymous 7:04

I hadn’t appreciated that we were talking dollars.

If you are at a good set focussed on commercial/chancery etc, hard working, competent, with a strong client focus you should be billing £200k within the first 2-3 years. However, that is still a gross figure.

My point was simply that to get beyond £500k is extremely difficult and only a few hundred do so every year.

chancery barrister

On the holiday front, yes, there can be some perks.

However, in my experience, if those barristers under 10 years’ call with serious ambitions to make serious money and make silk don’t take that time off.

The bar attracts many people with independant wealth. Those people provide the illusion that there is easy money to be had with vast amount of holidays that can be taken.

The Bar is no different from any other industry. If you go on holday for 6 weeks, your clients will simply use different (and hungry) counsel. They may not come back to you.


Time off has changed. Now there is no point in being around in August and being available then can be seen as a sign of not having enough work.

Don't mind me

That is not true, Kirkland pays the equivalent of 190k dollars up to a cap of £150k; anything more due to currency rates will not pass the £150k mark… Also bonuses tend to be very hard to attain and mostly illusory since base salary is so high



Seriously, what motivates people to post things like this? It is a complete, unmitigated lie. Virtually all Kirkland lawyers receive a bonus based on the Cravath scale because virtually all of them meet the 1800 hour minimum. The same is probably true for other US firms. For more senior associates, bonuses at US firms are an integral part of their overall compensation.


Phat money. This just shows all eager law graduates that alpha American firms totally outperform and outpower all those English beta outfits in the City. Why even bother applying to shet firms, literally no point.


US firms

It’s all well and good to report the PR stunts by US firms saying they will make no cuts to salaries etc, etc. But how many reporters actually check (or are able to know) what a firm is doing behind the scenes (e.g., downsizing of teams, reduction in number of secretaries or other support staff, focus on finding faults even where these don’t exist for people to be pushed out, etc…).

I see this at my US firm which is first in line to say that NQ salaries are not changing. Yet, poor associates and many other people who don’t know what they’re about to find or what others at the firm are going through, which doesn’t get reported in the press.



Exactamundo. Retention rate at my US firm is 40%.


Aishah Hussain

Hi 1:38pm, let me know what is going on behind the scenes at your firm. Email me:



But, the London offices are a bit too nouveaux and the lack the class and panache of the London MC.


Terrible Tale To Tell

That’s true even for the most blue chip Wall Street outfits. Think a London firm’s Dubai office and you get the picture for the status of the London office of these firms.


Fried Frank Associate

That’s nonsense…


Fried Egg Manager

Didn’t realise burger joints have associates?



No but old guard white shoe new York firms do. Back to my huge LBO SPA.


Yes, Anon, get back to editing a template.

US Trainee

What absolute rubbish. I am a trainee at one of the firms named in this article. I won’t say which one in case LC don’t publish this comment.

I’m in a Corporate seat yet I am helping the Liti team do bundling because they’ve sacked off all of their paralegals (save for one girl who doesn’t actually do anything). Nice to see that LC will just post a story like this without the full picture.



Anything on NQ retention though? Associates mysteriously leaving?


US Trainee

No NQ rumours as yet, which is strange because NQ positions are under consideration right now….

One of my fourth seater friends has already been speaking to her preferred department informally, so it’s not as if the NQ positions aren’t there – it’s just a question of how many people get them.


Not white & case

Except it definitely is.


US Associate

Agree – I am a fee earner at another US firm (which can’t keep its mouth shut about “how great” it is) and they’re doing the same and even more than that.

LC and others relying on what HR / Recruitment Teams / PR relations at US are telling them without doing any investigative research or digging deeper is leading to truly rubbish reporting.

My experience has also been that other lawyers within the same firm are also under the belief that “all is fine“ without knowing what’s secretly going on in other practice groups that have been more severely impacted.

Word of advice (though obvious): don’t assume what they are telling you is true.


Another US associate

What an ungreatful approach. I prefer to live by the rule “ask not what your firm can do for you – ask what you can do for your firm” ??????


Aishah Hussain

8:01pm, tell me the full picture at


The Reality (not the US Trainee above)

Please do your thorough research before reporting on US firms, even if you obtain information from people working at those firms.

If anyone is found out to be disclosing information to you they will be fired on the spot, not given a reference and tainted for life without being able to pursue their career, which is why these firms are so abusive in how they treat their employees.

I know that you will say that “all information is strictly confidential” etc but I don’t buy that and firms have their own ways of getting hold of it through a variety of ways.


Not a journalist

You can’t criticise a site for not reporting the whole picture and in the same breath warn lawyers at the firm not to (even confidentially) explain what is really going on…



‘…firms have their own ways of getting hold of it through a variety of ways.’ Really..? How?



Waterboarding trainees until they spill the beans.


One city firm is offering its qualifying trainees paralegal positions on qualification with no guarantee that this will lead to an associateship position. This also means that the qualifying trainees will be earning less than the first year trainees.


Curious Clive

Which is it? Spill the beans pls


Aishah Hussain

Anon at 8:26am, please do (



Hi Aishah,
Unfortunately I can’t reveal the firm’s name (for good reason). The legal world is far too small.



Convenient. Why don’t you get a temp email and drop her a line? I don’t understand people who come on LC spreading rumours, who then refuse to back it up with facts or to anonymously provide more details to a blogger who can go and dig deeper and potentially expose what’s going on. It reeks of sockpuppeting.



I love how you said sockpuppeting instead of bullsh*t… You sound very retro ?


You just know they’ll be called paralegals and will receive paralegal pay but will be given NQ work and responsibilities.


Former Bazza

As a former Bazza in a very good specialist civil set, think employment, product liability, insurance/ policy coverage disputes, prof neg, I can tell you the gross of members outstrips that of those working in MC/SC/US firms

At any top/ decent commercial, chancery,civil, specialist set you should bill 80-100k year one at a canter. And by 7/10 years your gross is likely to be 200-500, the lower end being for those who are lazy or incompetent. Compare that with solicitors earnings in equivalent law firms ?? Add into the mix most of these firms have an up or out policy if you don’t make partner, and most won’t.

No matter which way you cut it the Bar is much more lucrative if you are a decent Bazza in a decent set . You can be someone who is solid in the type of sets and areas I mentioned gross 400k plus without taking silk , and can do that kinda money from 7 years on for the rest of your career . To make £250k in a MC firm you will HAVE to be a partner and that is an exceptional feat, making 250k gross at a good set would make you prettty much a journeyman at 7 years in.

If you are in a top ten commercial or chancery set you after ten years can bumble along grossing 500k without too much difficulty and never taking silk , but at 500k is where it plateaus unless you can successfully transition into silk.

So all across the board the bar you earn more , save for unless you become fully equity in a MC/SC/US firm where partners will earn much more . Bottom of equity at slaughters is thought to be 800k???



Apparently so, Kirkland said to pay its salarieds knocking on for £500k base if they’re good, but it’s like the hunger games to get the (admittedly stupidly high) equity.

It’s a lot, lot less competitive to get in and you don’t need to be an academic superstar.

Sachdev did English at Nottingham, Charlie Jacobs went to Leicester ffs, Michael Hatchard went to f***ing Reading. There are infinite big firm partners with a decent 2:1 from a mid-range Russell Group.

They’d be laughed out the door at a top tier commercial set, it was never an option for them.



they probably had no interest in being a barrister. If you want to do elite transactional work it is far more interesting being a rainmaking partner like any of those you mentioned than being a silk



Transactional work is brainless. It involves no law and you just cobble together boiler plate documents. That is why people of low level intellect do it.


Another Anon

@ Anon 2.54pm

Not to mention the many “partners” there who went to university in India or New Zealand/Australia!

Well said Anon of 2.54pm. You could not have described Kirkland better.



> It’s a lot, lot less competitive to get in and you don’t need to be an academic superstar.

> Sachdev did English at Nottingham, Charlie Jacobs went to Leicester ffs, Michael Hatchard went to f***ing Reading. There are infinite big firm partners with a decent 2:1 from a mid-range Russell Group.

For God’s sake, how often do we need to go over this? The 80s and 90s were a different time for the whole legal profession – both barristers and solicitors. Similarly, you’ll come across barristers in top chambers who went to Birmingham, or occasionally Kent or wherever – again, way back in the 80s and 90s.

The MC and the top commercial/chancery sets have both swung towards a more elitist model. Most of the people who’ve made partner at MC firms in the last 5-10 years have been standard Oxbridge types, and intakes have changed dramatically and become far more elitist. I very much doubt Charlie would have had a look in if he were applying now as a Leicester grad.

I did a vac scheme at Links last year. Of the 20 people on my scheme, about half were Oxbridge, and all of the rest were top RG (Bristol, Durham, LSE) graduates with Law firsts. The only people with 2.1s in a non-law subject were Sloaney Oxbridge types.



@MCT – Not true… Kirkland employs many lower quality type candidates who’ve been unable to progress at their former firm. It is not difficult to get in either. Even the fact that the “partner” title is given to people who would be mid-level Associates at another shop is an indication of the standards but it is now becoming too over crowded. I know this directly from people who work there. It also employs lots of people from random places, universities and backgrounds who would never be able to set foot at MCs (let alone Chambers!) – again I know this directly from insiders.



I thought Kirkland associates and partners were mostly ex Links and FBD?


@J.A. My fault – I didn’t really frame or explain my comment properly. I’m not denying the K&E stuff about who works there (I’ll take your word for it, it makes sense).

But my point about how MC firms specifically have tightened up is still valid with your Charlie Jacobs example. LegalCheek commenters always mention him, or Matthew Layton, or that one SM partner with a Desmond as an example of how it’s fairly easy to get into an MC firm with less than stellar academics. That might have worked back in the 80s, not anymore.


@Former Bazza, are the numbers you are quoting before or after chambers fees /expenses etc?

Don’t necessarily doubt the point but need to remember that in a firm you have no expenses to worry about


US Senior Associate

There are probably a dozen or so Silks billing £1.5 Million in commercial/chancery sets, who work unbelivably hard. There are hundreds of partners at MC/SC/US firms making that and more…



What’s the uk salary rate for 3 PQE at Weil ?


Former Bazza

@ anon, the degree requirement at the Bar is a filtering process it the path of least resistance . go back 15 years plus there are any number of Bazzas who have forged brilliant careers with 2;1s and 2:2s there is no correlation between academic excellence and making a great career at the Bar.

A peer of mine ended up at a MC set, top Oxon first, distinction BCL, he/she “left ” after two years having had a conversation with the Head Of Chambers. She received constant complaints from lay and professional clients about the standard of his /her work. There have been others



Lol what a dumb comment… A lot of US firm partners are from mid range RG unis because 1) what matters is the quality of your work not your uni and whether you where the best at A levels at 17 years old 2) most of these are hard working people who unlike oxbridge students, do not have the ecnomic strength to fund private tuition, lessons etc and thus thrive once start working 3) working at a firm is not the same as pondering at an academic level which is why you may have great partners who would make the worst tutors or academics


US lawyer

A senior associate at a top US firm will be on about £245k + £60k bonus – so around the £300k mark. You don’t have to be a partner to be earning that kind of money. The equivalent in the MC would probably be on about 100k less. Do the maths. I know where I’d rather be.



Well no..a senior associate will not be on about 100k or less. NQ rates for MC are in the late 80s to 90s Mark with potential bonus to make it 100k (not including the impact of COVID). Seniors are on at least 150k there.

What information do you have that makes you so sure that US firm senior associates are on this salary? And what PQE are we talking about here?



Many US law firm salaries are on (or tied to) the Cravath scale, which is publicly available. You can look it up on the internet very easily.


US lawyer

Lol – exactly – so if the US senior associate is on 300k and the MC lawyer is on 160k + 30k bonus (being generous) then they are still on 100k less. What’s your point?

I am a senior associate at a US firm. Look at the cravath scale mate.


Saving for a lambo

Fried W**k London office looks to be basically the remnants of SJ Berwin, plus a bunch of former Kirklanders who went through Lucas and the Sach’s famous ‘6 years to partnership’ cycle. Hiring suggests London is the firm’s attempt to cash in on the PE/funds boom that every other US shop has been getting stuck into. Not sure what the story is behind their litigation team but I think it’s another SJB leftover; can’t see how else the two fit together.



What’s the 6PQE salary at Mayer Brown and Dechert?


Gen question

Anyone know what the salary exc bonus is for a 6PQE at Dechert and Mayer Brown?



Probably about 185-190k and 150-60k respectively.


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