News

Shearman ups NQ lawyer pay to £135,000

By on
42

Trainees also awarded pay rises

Shearman & Sterling has increased the salaries for its UK trainees and associates across all levels, as competition for junior lawyer talent hots up in the market.

The US-headquartered firm confirmed newly qualified (NQ) solicitor pay now sits at £135,000 per year, up 12.5% from £120,000.

The pay rise puts Shearman’s London NQ lot on the same levels of cash as those over at Davis Polk, and just above those at Cleary Gottlieb, Paul Hastings, Skadden and Weil Gotshal, all of whom pay £133,000 upon qualification, according to our Firms Most List.

Qualified solicitors of up to three year’s post-qualification experience (PQE) have also seen their salaries soar by as much as 19%, while associates in all other classes will have their pay adjusted accordingly.

The firm has splashed the cash on its trainee solicitors, too, giving both first and second years an extra £5,000. First year trainees now earn £50,000, rising to £55,000 in their second year.

A Shearman & Sterling spokesperson said in a statement:

“We have increased our UK track associate salaries across the board for UK junior, mid-level and senior associates. The competition for associate talent is fierce and these changes ensure we remain very competitive in the market.”

Slowly we are beginning to see some major law firms restore their NQ lawyer pay packages having opted to cut them by varying amounts to stymie the financial fall-out from Covid-19. Linklaters yesterday announced it had bumped NQ lawyer pay to £92,500, plus discretionary bonus, after reducing it by 10% last summer.

42 Comments

Exciting news

Thought this had already happened tbh

(12)(0)

Anonymous

I was a legal secretary to one of the managing partners in the new york office approximately 20 years ago. I must say that the secretaries (who always ended up doing the grunt work) were never treated like they were valuable by management. I believe that was due to the fact that we were always easily replaced. Management could decide on a whim to let one of us go. I was never treated with respect or valued by them. Hopefully that has changed. I recall specifically the time that we received bonuses at Christmas from the firm. As it turned out the partners had the opportunity to be able to give their assistants an additional bonus out of their own pocket and then be reimbursed by the firm. Guess what…it never happened. The only thing I received was a chintzy wooden jewelry box.

(6)(6)

Anon

That is so fascinating. Thanks for taking the time to tell us. What the original story lacked was a paragraph or two on how the legal secretaries were treated in New York 20 years ago. Could you let us know some more?

(21)(4)

STALLONE

Cool story brah, made me buy one of those chintzy jewellery boxes. Best £5 I ever spent!

(3)(3)

Skadden NQ

Welcome to the club. Finally.

Willkie, your turn next.

(17)(2)

Wilkster

Willkie is already at 130k , 50, 55k

(3)(1)

lol

Willkie ffs – awful firm

(13)(1)

CMS 4th Seat Trainee

Why

(3)(1)

Harshim

When will the MC firms follow suit? Probably NEVER fgs.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

I work at a respectable City firm in a projects advisory role. When we were in the office my days were typically 10.5 hours. Busy days would easily be 12 hours, maybe the occasional 13. Now with covid/WFH, there’s a couple extra breaks during the day but I can’t remember the last time I was logged in less than 12 hours.

I know the US firms can be sweatshops, with 14+ hour days 6 days a week frequently happening, especially with the deal teams. However, based on what I’ve been told by my friends who work for those firms, they work at most 35-40% more hours than me a year. Yet based on these latest salary figures they make 100% more than me. With bonuses, including the latest covid bonus (which we aren’t getting) it’s getting closer to 125+% more than the NQ-to-sub 5 PQE associates at my firm.

This market is a clusterf**k.

(41)(2)

anonymouse

Obviously it totally depends on the firm in question (and there are some notorious US sweatshops that deserve their reputations), but I’ll let you into a little secret: hours at most US firms are broadly in line with other top city firms…

In my experience, in a US firm environment, there’s a higher premium placed on responsiveness, but on the flip side there is less emphasis placed on having docs cross-checked by multiple levels of seniors staffed on a particular project, which increases efficiency and reduces time waiting on someone else before you can get something off your desk.

(31)(0)

US 2nd yr

That second paragraph is nail on head. A lot less crap to put up with by not having multiple layers of juniors / mid levels to work through. I mean what the hell is a managing or supervising associate that so many English firms have ffs.

(15)(2)

anonymouse

Also, just to add to this, there are approx 230 working days in a year (taking into account 25 days holiday plus 8 days public holidays).

Assuming you’re shooting for 2000 hours per year, that’s just under 8.7 billables per day, or 43.5 billables per week. This assumes NO weekend working and NO working during holidays. 8.7 billables is achievable in my experience by generally working an 11 hour day and having a proper break during that time for lunch.

Obviously there are ups and downs, and 11 hours per day (including a lunch break) is more of a grind than your standard 9-5, but the point I’m trying to illustrate is that this idea of frequently working 14+ hour days 6 days a week is just a nonsense and would take you well beyond the standard 2000 hours that most US firms target. Usual caveats about some notorious US sweatshops being the exception apply.

(16)(1)

OP Anonymous

The above comments are very eye opening. My targets are much lower than that but the reality is that’s nearly identical to my average hours.. I now realise I am a complete mug.

Officially set meeting with the headhunters this week.

(10)(0)

Realist

Correct, but City firms (including the Magic Circle) will never compete with US firms on salaries or profitability:

– US clients prefer law firms which can act globally for them (particularly with the growth in international regulatory and prosecutorial coordination and cooperation).

– English firms have been notoriously unsuccessful penetrating the US, and New York in particular, markets. US clients therefore prefer US firms. (English firms also don’t have name recognition in the US.)

– US clients are more willing to pay higher legal fees overall, and they do. This is particularly the case for litigation and arbitration. One might objectively deprecate the USA’s culture of litigation, but it is profitable 🙂

– US firms don’t indulge the touchy-feely, wishy-washy, namby-pamby, soft-hearted, soft-headed nonsense that “all our staff are equally valuable”, because it’s simply untrue. They pay far lower salaries to fungible, replaceable support staff with limited skill sets and low barriers to entry for their replacements. This releases more money to pay fee earners.

– US firms don’t have Rolls Royce cultures such as: their own restaurants, regular client functions, elaborate catering both for those client functions and even catering for internal training sessions, vast IT teams and resources, etc. This also releases more money to pay fee earners.

– The Magic Circle firms are full service, whereas US firms cherry pick the most profitable practice areas (and clients). Full service firms necessarily cross-subsidise less profitable practice areas, which drags down remuneration.

– US firms are pretty brutal at all levels: if NQs don’t perform in their first 6 months, they’re gone. Likewise for more senior lateral hires, and even senior associates if partnership isn’t looking likely.

– US associates know that we’re paid more and therefore we’re expected to be available 7 days/week, including while on holiday (not necessarily for lengthy, substantive work, but certainly to address queries, etc.). I’ve never turned on my out of office reply, except when I was on a remote trip away from mobile phone signals. This enables us to have smaller teams, and thus do more work with fewer people: no one is ever really on holiday.

– US associates expect to work longer hours: we’re paid more money than Croesus. Some may regard this as a Faustian pact, but it’s clear on the face of it what we’re signing up for, and it’s a personal choice.

– The Magic Circle firms are huge and the US firms are smaller. There simply aren’t the opportunities for more than a certain % of Magic Circle associates to move, so Magic Circle firms don’t need to match US firms’ salaries – most of their associates can’t move. (I’m not even arguing that the best associates leave Magic Circle firms, simply that numerically, only a small % can have the opportunity, entirely independently of merit.)

I’m not criticising City/Magic Circle firms here, far from it. I trained at one, before moving on qualification, and I liked both the firm and everyone who I worked with. I just don’t think that they’re comparable. That’s not a value judgment: London needs full service firms which do a wide range of work, including less profitable work. The focus on PEP and associate salaries should not be the myoptic obsession which it has become.

Finally, just as I don’t criticise those who choose to prioritise having kids, and domestic bliss etc. because that’s personal choice, I don’t regard as reasonable those who criticise those of us who aspire to bill c2,500 hours/year. There’s room for everyone, there doesn’t need to be a template from which those who deviate are excoriated (whether for ‘not working hard enough’, or working ‘too hard’).

(72)(3)

US Associate

“US associates expect to work longer hours: we’re paid more money than Croesus.”

You sound like a socially awkward, arrogant NQ with an unjustified sense of self-importance. I work at a US firm and wouldn’t be caught dead saying something like this. We’re minnows in the grand scheme of things and everyone knows real wealth means being an owner, not an employee.

These sorts of comments are embarrassing and give associates at US firms a bad name.

(27)(41)

US 2nd yr

The comment is good for the most part but agree with this

Also an NQ would never be ‘gone’ after 6 mths of not performing ffs

(22)(7)

Realist

Thank you, I realise that I omitted a crucial caveat. I said:

“US firms are pretty brutal at all levels: if NQs don’t perform in their first 6 months, they’re gone.”

I should have said:

“US firms are pretty brutal at all levels: if **lateral hire** NQs don’t perform in their first 6 months, they’re gone.”

This is because the people about whom I was thinking (i.e. real life examples) were let go at the end of their 6-month probation periods. You are correct to flag that firms are highly unlikely to sack their own trainees, who they have carefully selected for a training contract, nurtured for two years throughout that training contract, and then awarded a highly-coveted NQ position. I apologise for my original lack of clarity; thank you for the correction.

Realist

Dear “US Associate” and “US 2nd yr”, you both misconstrue my point. I said: “US associates expect to work longer hours: we’re paid more money than Croesus.”

You inferred that this related to a sense of self-importance. On the contrary, it only reflects self-importance if you conflate people’s value with what they’re paid. I do not: I had a public sector career before retraining as a lawyer, and I worked with many superb people who were paid a pittance.

One April 2021 source says that the average UK salary is £26,193 (https://standout-cv.com/pages/average-uk-salary). In that context, we *are* paid more money than Croesus. Before tax, US NQs are being paid over 5 times the average UK salary – and that’s the average salary, not merely that of people in the first year of [usually] their first job. In that context, it is reasonable to “expect to work longer hours”. Partners’ earnings are irrelevant: 90% of us won’t survive that long – it’s hierarchy, and one of the reasons it’s so profitable is that US firms are more highly leveraged, i.e. we hemorrhage junior associates as they get more senior (and thus more expensive to both clients in hourly rates, and to the firm in salaries). At no point did I imply that we are anything other than expendable minions – because I’ve no illusions to the contrary.

You are both correct to refute the inference that people’s worth is reflected by their salary – but that is an inference that apparently you both drew – not one which could fairly have been construed from my text.

In conclusion, I stand by both points: (1) we *are* paid a huge amount of money; and (2) we *should* therefore expect to work longer hours.

(29)(13)

Anon

Why publish articles on NQ increases and then not update your own Most Lists? So odd

(23)(0)

NRF Trainee

NRF is also a US firm with its incredible US offering , expect them to make similar moves soon too if they want to maintain their position as one of the top US offerings.

(12)(6)

TOPKEK

LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL

yea not happening mate

(32)(0)

Touker

These US firms are making the MC firms look like sweatshops on their own turf. The ‘prestige’ of working at an MC firm can only get you so far when those who want more money go to US firms and those who want a better work-life balance go in-house or to mid-market firms.

(13)(2)

Anonymous

Re the ‘prestige’ point… I think it’s much worse than that and in any event how ‘prestige’ works in law has been consistently misunderstood by the various undergrads posting here.

To anyone outside of law practice, prestige is realistically determined by brand recognition. Globally, the winner would undoubtedly be Baker McKenzie. They consistently top the global brand indices. Nothing to do with quality of lawyer or quality or work… just brand power.

To anyone within law practice, performance may be measured by PEP or revenue per lawyer, but ‘prestige’ definitely comes from how high an hourly rate one can successfully charge their clients. Within London, this would mean top QC barristers that specialise in tax, planning, competition, or other commercial areas that can demand fees of well over £1500 per hour, or PE/leverage finance partners in law firms that charge fees as a percentage of the deal on completion, which typically means their rates average at £2500+ an hour. The top tier US firms can’t be beaten in this regard.

No one cares about the history of a law firm, especially as most of the old guard was seriously diminished in the 2008 crisis and have not been the same since.

(9)(12)

📚📚📚

Agreed. MC fanboys forget that firms like Farrers, Norton Rose and Ashurst have equally long and distinguished histories as the likes of Freshfields, Linklaters, etc. CC and A&O are infants compared to them. And yet look at where NRF and Ashurst are today.

(4)(14)

FlourPour

Also law students and lawyers live in a bubble where the words “magic circle” and “silver circle” actually mean something. When your friend from halls who studied english and got a 18k/year job as an occasional journalist in London invites you to her birthday party with other poorly paid cool people literally everyone will think you’re a suit whether it’s for CC, NRF or a “South London Legal 500 firm”.

We can have our prestige in the legal world but outside of it, law really isn’t a prestigious career anymore. You’re better off going to a no-name US firm and having your Louis Vuitton Rolex do all the prestige talking for you.

(10)(0)

Anon

Prestige isn’t all about earnings. Look at how much lawyers in places like Cayman and BVI earn. Yet working offshore is the definition of professional failure.

(30)(0)

Egg on MC's face

“Linklaters yesterday announced it had bumped NQ lawyer pay to £92,500, plus discretionary bonus, after reducing it by 10% last summer.”

ROFL what a phat bump. Meanwhile Shearman NQs are bagging more than senior associate gimps at Links. 😀 😀 😀

(23)(1)

Anon

135k is fine, but, have you met anyone that works for Shearman? Proper weirdos.

(21)(11)

Shearman Anon

Being intelligent doesn’t make you a weirdo.

(5)(12)

smol 🧠 energy

lol Shearman attracts second-rate minds that couldn’t get into MC or tier 1 elite US firms.

(17)(9)

Shearman Assoc

This is exactly the sort of thing that makes people think we’re weirdos, can you not?

(7)(0)

Anon

In the meantime, Linklaters have raised NQ pay by 2.5k. The MC have been completely blown out of the water

(2)(1)

Jez Corbyn

Brothers! Sisters!

Jeremy Corbyn will reappropriate this for the common good!

A windfall tax on city greed!

FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!

(2)(9)

Query

Are there any firms that pay very well and have good work/life balance or is there no case of best of both worlds? Just wondering cos I’m thinking of switching careers (genuine answers please, no trolls lol)

(2)(0)

Realist

The best advice had on this point was from a former supervisor who said, “Ultimately, everyone is paid broadly the same hourly wage…”. In other words, there is a correlation between the hours the you work and the salary you’re paid.

The exception is probably with the US firms, for the reasons I articulate in my comment at Apr 23 2021 3:58pm, above. There is differentiation between US and Magic Circle firms, both of which seek to maximum utilisation of their assets (i.e. us associates), and the ability of the latter to remunerate their people accordingly.

My understanding is that in the rest of the market, the ‘hours => salary’ correlation is reliable. There are occasional anomalies, of course: apparently BCLP, after its merger a few years ago, tried to increase PEP and firm profile by smashing transactional teams with more work. Unsurprisingly, this prompted an exodus of associates who took the attitude that if they were going to have to work far longer hours, they may as well escape elsewhere and be paid for them.

On the switching careers point, be careful. I’ll paste something I’ve written previously about that, in the hope that it will be a useful insight.

(4)(1)

Realist

On the changing careers point, in true Blue Peter style, here’s something that I prepared earlier. It’s based on notes from conversations with friends from my previous career who were considering following my path. I was extraordinarily lucky, and am grateful every day for the opportunities I have, but I’ve no illusions that either this outcome was guaranteed (or even likely), or that I’ll survive long enough make senior associate level (it really is brutal – which is fine, that’s the way it works, it’s a ‘hurdle the dead, trample the weak, survival of the fittest’ profession, in which under-perfomers are culled for the good of the pack):

——

Articles like this make law sound like an amazing career. Don’t be fooled by survivorship bias: it’s like saying that retail is amazing, be Jeff Bezos is worth $$$$, or working in Kwik Fit will turn you into the next Elon Musk. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the vast majority of applicants to secure decent legal jobs. Law schools are churning out thousands of people every year who have been misled into believing that a lucrative career lies ahead of them (or, frankly, any career). In fact, the profession is creaking at the seams with desperate LPC and BPTC graduates who are squandering years of their lives as paralegals, with no realistic prospect of any return on investment of what they spent on legal education, let alone the years of their lives they will never get back. Such people could have been content with other, non-legal careers, but are now in thrall to the sunk costs fallacy: their arm is in the mangle, and they will spent much of their 20’s in low-pay, low-status jobs with no prospect of advancement, before giving up, accepting reality and changing career.

Nowadays, only the truly exceptional (academically and otherwise) have a good chance of making it in law. The new qualification process with the SQE is poorly planned and likely to be a disaster. Qualification per se will be worthless, all that will matter is where people spend the early years of their career. The consequence will be to make those who train under SQE less employable in the long term, unless they win the jackpot at the start of their career by qualifying into a high-end law firm. Effectively, the new system will cement a ‘two-tier’ structure for lawyers, with the majority of those who qualified superglued to the bottom of the ladder. The publicly-funded legal sector in particular has been gutted over the last 20 years. For example, see this 2009 warning by Alex Deane of the reality of being a criminal barrister: https://www.lccsa.org.uk/crime-doesnt-pay. A decade later, this 2019 article by a newly-redundant criminal solicitor (more importantly, the comments underneath), shows that the position had only worsened: https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/practice/young-legal-aid-lawyer-shares-pain-over-redundancy/5070734.article

Further, law is not, generally, a well-paid career. 90% of jobs are poorly-paid, low status and lacking in security. City law jobs are a minority which create a very false image. Google ‘cravath bimodal’ for an insight into the reality of legal salaries: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=cravath+bimodal – and read the first dozen or so results. While the results you get will be US-focused, they also reflect the UK position. There is also a massive oversupply of candidates. This has been exacerbated because: (a) renaming polytechnics into universities has devalued ‘bog standard universities’; and (b) rampant grade inflation has rendered near-meaningless even 2.1s from the majority of so-called universities. Bluntly, you can only make money if you work for rich clients who want to spend their money on legal services. They are few and far between. Fighting for those coveted positions at the top end of the market, the standard of applicants is quite extraordinary. You can check this for yourself: use LinkedIn to read the CVs of trainees and junior associates in City firms – they almost exclusively have stellar academics. There are hundreds of such people fighting for each place. Why would a law firm give a training contract to someone who is academically inferior to the competition? In other words, you’re not competing against objective standards, you’re competing with every other person who also wants that job. (For aspiring commercial and chancery barristers, the path is even more brutal: successful candidates overwhelmingly have Oxbridge firsts

This is ferociously competitive, and all CVs with red flags are automatically binned. Some people seem resent this, but are oblivious of the fact that recruiting takes time, time literally costs money for law firms, and so we won’t waste effort on anything other than exceptional CVs. In the firm where I qualified we received 200-300 CVs for each training contract place. The outsourced recruiting team were looking for reasons to reject as many as possible of them, so that only a tiny minority could proceed forward to video interview and then the assessment centre. Anything other than perfection is an excuse to bin you. Sorry, but that’s reality. Facts don’t care about people’s feelings – nor, bluntly, do we. The overwhelming majority of social media commentary just tells people to keep plugging away. That results in swathes of people squandering their 20’s in appallingly paid paralegal jobs with no future. Even those who manage to qualify need to cling on for several years until they have enough experience to be widely employable: when we recruit document reviewers for dull-as-ditchwater work spending 10 hours/day ploughing through Relativity, the calibre of the qualified solicitors applying to us is heart-breaking. Some people appear to have just been unlucky on qualification or shortly thereafter, and have never recovered. It’s truly brutal, and all the feel good nonsense on social media is a betrayal of people’s trust. We should tell them the truth.

What you can do without cost or risk is apply to law firms for sponsorship through training. If successful, congratulations, you’re 70% of the way there (noting that you still need to secure a job on qualification, and then retain it until at least 3-4 PQE when you know what you’re doing). If you can’t, for the love of God don’t self-fund yourself through law school, or indulge in years of dead-end paralegal or contract lawyer jobs: listen to what the market is telling you – they don’t want you.

I am not being nasty, I am being realistic. Well-intentioned careers advice online is dominated by both an air of unreality and an absence of commercial understanding. I realise of course that virtue signalling and the ‘boosterism’ of empty encouragement plays well on social media. In really though, it is self-indulgent, and serves only to mislead people about their actual prospects, and thus where in reality they should invest their time and money.

(31)(4)

US2PQE

This is such a well thought out, but ultimately crap comment. I have seen a ton of lawyers qualify at great (mostly US) firms without fantastic academics. I have also seen paralegals grind and become associates at great firms. The difference with them was that, at 12am when the rest of the office had left, they kept going. They had a point to prove.

Hard work will get you to where you want to be above all else – you just need to fight for the ability to showcase it.

(6)(4)

Realist

>”Hard work will get you to where you want to be above all else…”

For this to be relevant, you have to believe that the majority of your competition are *not* prepared to work hard, in exchange for a £135k salary at 23-24 years old. Seriously?

>”I have seen a ton of lawyers qualify at great (mostly US) firms without fantastic academics. I have also seen paralegals grind and become associates at great firms.”

See my first paragraph: “Don’t be fooled by survivorship bias: it’s like saying that retail is amazing, be Jeff Bezos is worth $$$$, or working in Kwik Fit will turn you into the next Elon Musk.”

Of course *some* people make it. So what? Anecdotes are not evidence. You are ignoring the fact that the vast majority of people fail, and they do so after having squandered years of their lives and lots of money which they will never get back.

(7)(1)

Ordinary Lawyer

Hi Realist,

I love your comments. This has been my experience. I got a LLM from Cambridge University after getting a first at undergrad. However, I started having growths on my retinas and required the best part of 30 ops to save my sights. Then my dad got diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I now work for a national law firm for slightly more than the average teacher. The work I do is very easy because it’s not meant to be done by someone with my academics. So I am the highest performer and best closer in the my firm. I also do pro Bono work for a charity and serve on a law society committee.

But I will never earn that sort of money. In fact, there have been a few bosses who used my qualifications as an indication that I needed to be “brought down a peg”. A couple went as far to blatantly bully me. So I’m happy to have a job that I’m good at and I’m well liked. That being said, I’m bored and underpaid. On the plus side, I fill my time with side projects and I get to have my lunch in peace #silverlinings

So thanks for publishing this. I wish I’d seen it years ago. I am lucky because I have a place at medical school starting in September. I just wish I’d know what I know now and had jumped ship then.

US NQ

The following US firms are beyond bleak to work at regardless of their pay packet:
Dechert, Weil, Shearman. Trust me. Cultures are c**p

(1)(4)

PH TC

Heard anything about Paul Hastings? Don’t often much about them in these comment sections even though they’re pretty big

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories