Exclusive: Clifford Chance ups NQ solicitor base pay to £100k

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Bonus on top

Magic circle giant Clifford Chance has upped the salaries of its junior lawyers, Legal Cheek can reveal.

Newly qualified (NQ) associates will now receive a base salary of £100,000 — up from a previous base rate (and Legal Cheek estimate) of roughly £93,000.

We’ve used an estimate because CC previously chose not to disclose base pay, opting instead for a figure of “up to £100,000” with discretionary bonus applied.

Legal Cheek understands NQs are eligible for a bonus on top of the new six-figure rate.

The firm, which dishes out around 95 training contracts each year, pays trainees £48,000 in year one and £54,000 in year two.

The uplift to NQ pay will likely prompt the rest of the magic circle to reassess their own financial packages.

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As it stands, NQs at Freshfields receive a base rate of £100,000 plus discretionary bonus, while Linklaters‘ lot earn £100,000 including bonus. Elsewhere, Slaughter and May dishes out the same six-figure sum — a combination of basic salary and bonus — and Allen & Overy provides a “minimum total cash” of £100,000, comprised of salary and a sign-on bonus.

Away from the MC, the pay war among US firms re-ignited late last week when Milbank took the decision to up junior lawyer salaries to an astonishing $200,000 — or roughly £141,000 for those working this side of the pond. Not to be outdone, a host of firms have subsequently matched the increase, while others, including Davis Polk, have gone further and upped NQ rates to a market-topping $202,500 (£143,500).

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Which MC firms don’t have 100k base now? Is it just Links and Slaughters?



And A&O


Fleet Street

Freshfields about to raise to 120k base you heard it here first





MC are back

Very good for a MC. Solid pay and (slightly) less hours than their US counterparts. Now it makes sense, before it was just way less money for a tad bit less work.



You do know that all US firms are either hiking or about to hike salaries too, right?


MC are back

They won’t move much from the £130 mark. The difference will be slightly and all firms will be in the £130-140 mark, so not very relevant.



Except Milbank is now at £143k and the differences just get bigger after NQ…


US 4yr PQE

This is the key point. The NQ disparity is one thing but I’m a US 4yr PQE and now on just shy of £220k, plus about £90k in expected bonuses this year. MC just cannot compete.


@US 4yr PQE

No you’re not. No US firm pays 220k base at 4PQE. Maybe including bonus.


@anon 9.29am

They now do pay that as base. 4pqe on the new scale gets you $305k which works out as £216k using today’s exchange rate. The actual pay will be closer to £220k because most firms have set exchange rates higher than today’s spot rare.


I can’t be sure about Milbank specifically but going from ~£140k NQ to £220k at 4PQE sounds ridiculous based on what I know about comparable firms. Most firms avoid giving substantial raises after the massive trainee-to-NQ jump yet the above poster is suggesting consistent 20k raises every year. If that’s true, Milbank really is the place to be.

I definitely stand by the point that a 90k bonus at 4PQE is implausible even with a substantial COVID bonus.


You just need to look at the new salary scale many firms are now aligning themselves to. Figures in USD below. 90k for 4pqe is possible with COVID bonus and an above market surplus that a number of firms give in excess of Cravath bonus scale. At 4pqe you already get 65k usd as a minimum bonus without COVID and without surplus. There’s also an expectation that year end bonuses will be higher this year.


US 4yr PQE

@Accuracy – the £90k is actually without any uplift. The standard bonus at my level (class of 2016 / yr PQE) is $80k and special bonuses in the spring and summer of $52k have been announced. At today’s spot rate, that’s just over £90k, but the way my firm converts things we tend to end up slightly under the spot rate.

Legal Cheek should pay some attention to the disparity at the mid and senior end. The NQ figures are one thing but US firms give very generous increases as you move through the scale and bonuses also form a very large portion of overall comp.

Both the new $205k Davis Polk salary scale and the Davis Polk bonus scale that was announced earlier in the year, which most of the US market has matched, are widely available online so worth checking out if you think these figures sound too good to be true…

@US 4yr PQE

Mind saying what firm you work at? If what you’re saying is true, it seems like it’s a tier above the firms I thought were the highest paying in the city.

US 4yr PQE

I would rather not say for privacy reasons but also because this is not about the firm. The US salary and bonus scales are pretty widely available in the public domain.

In the UK, US firms virtually all benchmark their salaries against this scale. They way they’ve done this over the years has changed. When I qualified, the main approach was that they would tend to be converted to GBP and knocked back by £20kish at every level. K&E and Latham were the main exceptions that paid the same salary but at a spot rate. Now, they pretty much all pay a spot rate of some form – so a UK associate gets broadly the same as a US associate.

@US 4yr PQE

Nice banter, lad. No firm increases the salary by even close to £20kish at every level. Closer to £10k.

@@US 4yr PQE

NQ salaries are around £140k and they go up to just below £220k at 4yrs PQE. That’s roughly £20k each year.

Bonuses also go up about £10k per year (£10k-ish at NQ to £55k-ish at 4yrs), so overall comp goes up roughly £30k p/a at US firms.

In addition, two rounds of COVID bonuses are being awarded this year, which for a 4yr PQE total about £35k.

@@@US 4yr PQE

The only NQ salaries that are £140k are at firms which have made changes in the last week. You will 100% not be on £220k at 4PQE. Even with the recent changes, the scale sets 4PQE salaries at $275,000 – that’s £197,000.

@@US 4yr PQE

@@@US 4yr PQE – the $275k rate applies to class of 2017, which a 4yr PQE March qualifier will be on. September qualifiers are on the $305k rate which applies to class of 2016.

All major US firms will match the scale if they haven’t already, as the US market is fiercely competitive and transparent on salary (with a few exceptions, eg JD and GT) and the major firms all end up conforming to the same scale.

CC Open Day Applicant (overworked trainee)

Okay great, add on 35k now please otherwise it’s a joke.


Anonymoose MC Mid

More senior associates got much bigger jumps. I got a 30k pay rise.



Except you didn’t because you’re a student who’s yet to finish their first-year LLB exams. Back to the ‘Text, Cases, & Materials’ schedule buddy



Yep 2 PQE upwards got 25-30K rises



The cream of the UK elite law firms just cannot compete with the pace of US firm salaries (which will no doubt increase from $202,500 this week!)


MC are back

Negligible increase, from £133k current to maybe £139… not much of a US increase!



I’ve worked at both US firms and UK firms. Purely looking at money, it is hard to compete with US firms, but in my experience the culture at UK firms is much more tolerable/less toxic. For me it goes beyond “fewer hours” — the top salaries can attract different types of people, and not necessarily good ones. Mental health should be a factor when choosing a firm.

Of course, you can’t paint all firms with the same brush, but I’ve heard similar comments from others.


Old Guy

Really good comment. Unfortunately a lot of students and junior solicitors don’t appreciate this point.



Why does nobody ever name and shame on this site? You don’t have to give us your whole career history if you don’t want to be identified but if you’re saying a specific firm is toxic, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t warn others when you have the chance to be anonymous. The same goes for naming firms that you think are the opposite of toxic.


Wise words

This is very true. When you are working long hours the people you are working with play a big part in determining your mental health.



Pretty clear that the so called MC firms are a joke at this point. Would advice aspiring solicitors to apply to US firms – qualify training and money too, even if no one has heard of the clients.


CMS Trainee

Can LC stop censoring my posts please. I wrote this as “CMS Trainee” so stop changing my name. Getting tired of this



Two points that never get mentioned in the MC/U.S. debate:

1. The bonuses at MC firms can get very large indeed – e.g. six figures for not-all-that-senior senior associates. This does help bridge the gap, and can be paid to those that the MC is keen to keep hold of.

2. Junior partners at MC firms in London are typically paid significantly more than junior partners at U.S. firms in London (who are typically still employees, and have a few years to really “make it” into the equity, which most don’t). In fact, I suspect the average MC partner in London earns significantly more than the average U.S. partner in London – it’s just these sites only write stories on the small handful of PE rainmakers, for whom U.S. firms can really flash the cash without the constraints of lockstep.

Combined, these two things mean it’s really not the huge exodus of “good people” that people like to shout about on here.



I think you’d have to be bonkers to leave a MC team that you are comfortable in and are doing good work in at 3/4/5 PQE for an extra 50k a year, if you have any desire to make partner.


Old Guy

Even if you don’t want to make partner, best to stay in a stable job and perfect your craft than move around chasing cash. £130k a more than enough to live on even with dependants.



Lies, magic circle junior partners do not earn more than US junior partners lol. A very senior associate at an elite US firm could be on what a junior partner is at a magic circle firm.

Show me examples of when a junior magic circle partner earns more?


True Insider

Agreed with 2.

On 1, impossible – even at US firms a six figure sterling bonus is incredibly rare. It is however the case that it is easier (fewer hours) to get a bonus at MC than US, but this will be about 0.4 – 0.6 of the US equivalent (not counting COVID bonus).


So much wrong here.

You have utterly no idea what you are talking about.



Oh my – this post could not be more wrong!



Six figure bonuses?! What planet are you living on. There are seniors at MC firms making less than US NQs. Highest bonuses tend to be around the 30k mark. Taxed down to 15k



I’m on the “planet” of being a senior associate at a MC firm, so am speaking from personal experience. My bonuses were considerably higher than £30k before I was promoted to senior associate.



This is not true. I’m at A&O and got a 20k bonus at 2pqe. Senior associates obviously got more. I was at the top of the scale and some at higher pqe got less than me but you definitely would not just be getting a 30k bonus as an SA, at least not here.



You not getting it does not make it untrue.



Great comprehension skills. I was agreeing with you and disagreeing with rofl…


Absolute nonsense US firms pay huge bonuses and junior partners are made up at K&E after 6 years pqe which would never happen at MC firms



Yeah because your basically a senior associate with a partner title at a US firm at 6 PQE.


Oh no!

Yeh a senior associate that is far more respected by clients than a normal senior associate, and makes a shit tonne more than any other senior associate. Didn’t Legal Business do an article where they revealed that some salaried ‘partners’ at Kirkland were pulling in £450k. Call me whatever you want – senior associate, wage slave, circus monkey – for that kind of money.


top kek

Would rather that than be 6PQE earning less than a US NQ



Anyone wondering what the “trickle-down” effect on non-MC (e.g. NRF, Macs) and non White Shoe US (JD, HL) will be? The largest international firms seem to pay NQs £75k-£95k base and am thinking they may now feel compelled to raise their salaries too.



Simmons & Simmons upped their NQ pay from £77k to £84k this year. I reckon other firms that pay c.£75k could up to £80k plus and the likes of Travers and Macfarlanes could up it from £85k to £90k.

I think some of the c.£75k salary firms might also increase their trainee pay by around 10%. Some of them have been stuck on £40k for the past three years.



“Simmons & Simmons upped their NQ pay from £77k to £84k this year”




You’re such an idiot. Good luck getting a TC.



The last thing UK city firms want to do is spark a wage war as they aware they cannot compete with the huge salaries US firms pay so any wage increases from UK firms will be circa £ 5-10K


MC senior

Pretty disappointing raise. I appreciate that MC firms cannot match US firms. However, I was hoping that MC firms would narrow the pay difference to something more sensible – like 25% to 30% lower than the US firms. The pay gap of 40% is frankly demoralising.

After you factor in bonuses, the gap in compensation between US and MC firms is even wider.

It’s a myth that MC firms work significantly less hours than US firms. Partnership is not easier to achieve at a MC firm than a US firm – think the lawyer ran an article that the average PQE of partners in the MC is increasing.

All factors considered, I’m not sure if the MC firms are a better place to start a career than a US firm.



I expect most decent City firms will be unleashing some double digit revenue and pep increases in the coming weeks, if salaries don’t move there will be a lot of unhappy campers given how hard everyone has worked over the last year.



LC missing majority of the story here. Much much bigger rises at all other PQEs



Indeed, I was positively shocked at the size of my pay rise / bonus this year. I had expected the NQ salary to be 120k.


cringe overload

Oh look, another thread where people without TCs comment about which US firm they would most like to get a mid-level associate role at.


D Trump Jr.

I know right. Watching second year Durham lads trying to look down at a firm they can’t get into by comparing it to another firm they can’t get into is just… Well done lads I’m sure that K&E appreciate the free PR 😂



Why Durham? Weird choice considering it’s the third most represented university at US firms according to the Chambers study. Didn’t study there, just a bit odd. Why not poke fun at Bristol, or Exeter and Warwick, who all perform far worse?


MC Hammer

What were the pay increases for junior solicitors?



Could the MC afford to pay their associates more? Yes of course they could but the bottom line is they don’t have to because there is a huge line of intelligent candidates desperate for a TC.



Cant be that intelligent if they can’t get a US TC. I think the word you’re looking for is servile or possibly above average.


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