Sidley boosts NQ lawyer salaries from £137,500 to £148,500 as US MoneyLaw mania continues to sweep London

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8% rise

US law firm Sidley Austin has increased the salaries of its junior lawyers in London.

Newly qualified (NQ) solicitors will now earn a base salary of £148,500, up 8% from £137,500.

Those higher up the associate scale will also receive pay rises; a 2019 qualifier will receive a salary of £156,000 and a 2012 qualifier £272,000.

Class Salary (GBP) Salary (USD)
2020 £148,500 $205,000
2019 £156,000 $215,000
2018 £174,000 $240,000
2017 £199,500 $275,000
2016 £221,000 $305,000
2015 £239,000 $330,000
2014 £253,500 $350,000
2013 £264,500 $365,000
2012 £272,000 $375,000

The salaries have been calculated using a USD to GBP exchange rate of 1.38, according to a memo seen by Legal Cheek. They are effective from 1 July 2021.

“We are grateful for your ongoing dedication and performance, which continues to enable us to provide our clients with the highest quality of professional service and contribute to the firm’s success,” the memo read. “Your extraordinary efforts this year are an outstanding example of our commitment to teamwork, collaboration and superior client service.”

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Law firms on both sides of the pond have been waging a pay war for associate talent.

Last week Legal Cheek reported that Simpson Thacher had upped US and London salaries to the new coveted rate of $205,000, after Milbank and Davis Polk previously set down salary markers of $200,000 and $202,500, respectively.

Elsewhere, Clifford Chance increased NQ lawyer pay in London to £100,000 and recently announced it will match the new $205k market scale for associates over in the US.

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tired bill

so they pay NQs what Kirkland and Akin Gump paid them… 4 years ago
and this is worthy of an article
(same can be said about MC firms, apparently them raising salaries to pre-COVID levels is newsworthy … )



KE for one was at 138 as well for NQ (with fluctuations due to moving monthly rate) – any insider knows this…



You’re an idiot. It’s called exchange rate fluctuations.



In 2016 Kirkland raised its salary from $140k to $180k and before this recent rise was paying $190k. The only reason Kirkland NQs were earning more than other NQs at US firms was the historically weak pound against the dollar since 2016. Kirkland use a floating exchange rate, whereas other firms have a fixed conversion rate. Tracking the floating exchange rate could come back to bite Kirkland NQs if the dollar weakens further.

There’s a good article today in The Lawyer about all this:

Essential reading I would say for the first year students who pose as Kirkland NQs


Basic Knowledge

You realise that was due to pegged vs unpegged exchange rates, right? Or are you just another student with no actual knowledge of how the market operates?



Those figures for the seniors are just as mad. That really is lambo money.



The standard year-end bonus and the special covid/spring bonuses add ~£120k on top of these figures for senior associates. It’s impossible for the Magic Circle to compete with this. Hence telling their people that every one of the thousands of US firm associates in London (who they are working across from on most deals) works 3000 hours a year. Can’t possibly have anything to do with the Magic Circle’s relative overconcentration in low-margin work (employment, pensions, investment grade debt, blockchain, ESG, islamic finance), their strategic failure to seriously pivot from FTSE companies and UK/European banks to private equity 10 years ago, and their unproductive top-of-lockstep grey hairs sucking up £2-2.5m a year while generating precisely no business.



And what if lawyers enjoy your so called “low margin” work?

Do you think everyone in London wants to work solely on private equity work? I’ve never heard a single argument from LegalCheek commentators about why working at an office which only does high-margin work is an attractive proposition – aside from the pay.

Why is working on novel areas of law, like climate change disputes, ESG, or blockchain a bad thing? Why do you look down on it? Just because there’s less money in it? When you work in the department, or firm, which negotiated the UK’s vaccine supply agreements to save thousands of lives, advises the UK government on post-Brexit trade treaties, represents Apple in tax disputes before the European Commission or challenges Google on anti-competitive practices globally, do you think these lawyers wish they were slogging away for the same private equity clients, weekend in, weekend out, just to be paid more? Now imagine being paid a six-figure salary to do, whilst seeing your family and friends, and maintaining a healthy 9am to 6/7pm lifestyle.

I feel sorry for LegalCheek commentators that simple can’t look beyond money.



I wasn’t making a value judgement. Sorry if it came across that way. The work you mention is important (probably more important than private equity work). My point was that Magic Circle partners want their associates to believe that the Magic Circle’s business model is as profitable as the elite US firms’, with the only difference being that US associates work double the hours for double the salary. Which is nothing more than gaslighting associates into staying put.



I don’t think any Partner or any senior is trying to decieve anyone. Nobody is stupid – we wouldn’t be in this profession if we were. And no one in a UK firm is gaslighting anyone. If anyone prefers how another firm conducts its business – then they’re free to leave, and it works both ways.

Everyone accepts UK firms are less profitable. If UK firms wanted to directly try to compete, they would jettison every less profitable practice area, and turn into some sort of Travers Smith PE-esque outfit. Leading UK firms are happy to continue doing a diversity of interesting and complementary work, some of which is just as profitable as the US model, but a lot of which is not.

You’re right that PE houses pay firms less than FTSE 100 firms or other institutions. Everyone knows this. Is that a reason to stop acting for Tesla, Amazon, Tescos, charities and the UK Government? You’re right that they pay less – but what exactly is the point you’re making? That only money matters?


It’s a commonly-pedalled myth that US associates work with difficult personalities and significantly more hours than a MC counterpart. That serves to keep people working within the MC with a “the grass isn’t always greener…” outlook.

The reality is that all firms are different and even teams and sub-teams within those firms can vary quite hugely in culture. But taken generally, US firms and MC firms demand the same in terms of dedication and ability.

One difference is perhaps that there is a premium on responsiveness in US firms and on quality in MC firms. So working in a MC environment involves more layers of checking work, and in a US firm more autonomy and pressure to turn work around quickly. But this is a generalisation and there are examples in both camps that buck the trend.

US guy

Because Anon was commenting on the discussion about MC v US pay (and making very compelling points) and why MC firms aren’t able to match US pay. Anon was clearly not making an argument that the low-margin areas aren’t important.


Lambo Mambo

Lol at the person from Pinsent Masons getting triggered because they don’t earn big wedge. Unfortunately for you sitting three desks over from one of the associates who worked on the vaccine deal isn’t gonna provide you with much comfort when your credit card bounces while trying to buy 300 thread count sheets at John Lewis.



What’s more likely? That the comments above are made by real solicitors working on interesting deals? Or that Lambo Mambo has even set foot in a law firm?

Look at that pinhead

Lol thx for the comment undergrad LLB gimp, now back to your textbooks you go.


Yup. I thought my MC 5PQE pay rise of nearly 30k was good, but I’m still 92k behind Sidley Austin …


sick of making the same point

there are circa 30 global elite firms in NY that will match or exceed the Milbank rate… are we getting an article for each and every one of them?



The table is a good addition. The increases at UK firms pale in comparison.



Is it possible for an associate to use this level of cash to really be set up for later in life – e.g. if the US track doesn’t work?



Depends how long but basically yes. In 4-6 years you can have:

1. £200k in your pension
2. Paid off student loan
3. £1m house with 25% deposit and 1% interest rate on remaining £750k

I’d call that being set up well for life.



Questionable that we’ll still get 1% interest rates in 4-6 years and also probably not advisable to saddle yourself with £750k mortgage debt if you have any concern that the “US track doesn’t work”. The rest is on the optimistic side of correct but even US lambo lawyers should look to buy somewhere cheaper if buying alone. If you manage to bag a high earning partner too then sure reach for that million pound flat in a pretty townhouse but don’t count on the US track leaving much time for dating.



It’s a fair point although my list above was more for illustrative purposes. Yes, if you plan on taking a big pay cut, either go for a cheaper pad or spend a couple of years reducing the mortgage before doing that. Don’t take on £750k of debt and then jump into a £50k p/a job for work/life balance where that’s clearly not going to be affordable.

On the dating comment, where there’s a will there’s a way. Although not everyone manages to do so (which is why they burn out), plenty of MC/US lawyers I know have worked out what’s important to them and found a way to balance that with the demands of work.



You don’t save this much. Last year after tax and pension I pocketed about 76k as an NQ, but no bonus as not eligible as September qualifier in my firm (bonus only being 7-8k anyway). I was renting, and after bills, rent and basic expenses (clothes, few long weekends, 1 week away) I saved around 45-50k. Most existing 5-6PQEs have saved about 250-300 having spent their whole careers in US firms. Obviously salary has increased a bit in recent years, but armchair hypothetical student maths doesn’t translate to the real world.



Groan, yes you do. Maxing out pensions allowances gives a 42-62% tax saving depending on the marginal tax rate. Investments also grow over time as do property values. The above real-life example was taking these things into account as well as savings from income.

Also, doesn’t your post prove the point: “most existing 5-6 PQEs saved about 250-300”? The example above stated £250k savings (not including pensions), which fits within that.

Also, most existing 5-6 year PQEs would have started their junior years earning far far less than the current NQ salaries at most US firms.



I’m not arguing with you; I am telling that is what I saved last year and that is what my more senior colleagues have saved.

No one lives in a £1 m house as a junior or mid level or even senior. People live in 400-600k 1-2 bed flats often in East London. Often buy between 1-3 PQE. A surprising amount of people rent. You don’t have the depo etc. to just buy a 1 mill flat for banks to lend unless you have parental help or inheritance, and no one would try anyway, because there’s little job security and you could find yourself out of work for months, or back in a UK firm.

You, and 99% of LegalCheek posters, are students or trainees at best living in fantasy land. You don’t save all that much or at least what everyone above thins. US firms have bad retention. You often are kicked out. It’s often a struggle to make target hours. 2-3 years is a realistic expectation for survival so assuming 5 years at a US firm puts anyone in a very small minority. In any event, if you move firms you often find yourself losing bonus for both your current year at your old firm and next year for your new firm.

What’s most annoying about engaging with your ramble is your reading comprehension, repeating the exact same point re increased salaries as if it was your own. It doesn’t make that much of a difference.

Unless people understand (i) income tax; (ii) cost of living in London when you have a good salary and a stressful busy job; (iii) mortgages – getting one, mortgage payments, interest etc; (iv) anything about US firms – hours, retention, how the teams work, the relevant practice areas, what you actually do; and (v) anything about law firms at all actually, they would do well to note what I’ve typed.


Groan. You saved £45-50k in your first year. In 5 years, assuming no growth in savings and no salary/bonus rise, and no increase in spending habits, you’ll have saved £225-250k. Factoring in both those things you’ll have saved more, probably £300k+.

Yes, people don’t tend to live in £1m houses as a junior but as a mid-level/senior they often do (especially if they’re partnered). I was trying to highlight that the availability of cheap credit and ability to access the mid-upper end of the London property ladder are key benefits of being on a US salary and a great springboard to long term financial stability. I haven’t seen these points highlighted on here before so felt that would be useful to people who are genuinely weighing up moving to a US firm.

I’m sorry to hear your experience of work has been so negative but I don’t agree that’s reflective of all US firms. I know lots of lawyers who have worked 5+ years in their US teams and generally have much more positive things to say about their current workplaces than their previous MC/SC firms. Kirkland is an exception.

Groan is done

You are just wrong and not listening. I haven’t offered a negative opinion of US firms, it’s a factual assertion re business models.

But you don’t agree with someone who has worked in US firms because you “know lots of lawyers”. Height of arrogance.

“People don’t tend to live in £1m houses as a junior” – who would have thunk?
“but as a mid-level/senior they often do” – no, they goddamn don’t.

Groan needs to take some annual leave and go somewhere sunny

Your last post: “I haven’t offered a negative opinion of US firms”

Your post before that: “US firms have bad retention. You are often kicked out. It’s often a struggle to meet target hours. 2-3 years is a realistic expectation for survival”.

That may be your experience but I’m telling you it’s not reflective of all US firms. Some are cut-throat, others are not.

Avoid the personal attacks, please. We are adults.


That’s great news for the 9 NQs they make up



Where’s Ropes’ rise? Gotta be soon.


Hopes & Chardonnay

It’s already happened you clueless gimp.


Pass it on

Order of best work-life balance (Relevant firms only):

1. Weil
2. Every other US PE firm


Marco’s Man

The work life balance at Weil is baffling.



Baffling how absolutely GOOD it is



Weil work life balance? Don’t make me laugh. Maybe in employment..



Lit team at Weil (or the ‘pro bono squad’ as they’re know internally) is also cushty…


Ok then

Weil work life balance? Don’t make me laugh. Maybe in employment..


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