HSF joins City pay war with £105k base NQ salary

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Bonus on top

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is set to increase newly qualified (NQ) solicitor base salaries in London to £105,000.

The silver circle firm confirmed today that from 1 January 2022, NQs will receive a £105k base salary plus discretionary bonus.

NQs currently receive a “total compensation package” of £107,000, although this figure comprises a base salary and discretionary bonus.

The firm said in a statement that the pay rise follows “a review of the market” and that there will be further increases to associate salaries in London and Brussels.

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HSF increased first year trainee salaries from £47,000 to £50,000; and second year trainee salaries from £52,000 to £55,000 in October.

Alison Brown, HSF executive partner, said:

“We are committed to investing in our talented lawyers and part of that is through competitive remuneration. Investing in our associates and trainees helps us attract, reward and retain the very best legal talent to deliver the high calibre work we undertake for our clients in a competitive market like London.”

The pay rise comes amid increased pressure on UK law firms to complete with the mega-paying US ‘MoneyLaw’ firms in London. Just yesterday Legal Cheek reported that fellow silver circle firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner upped junior lawyer salaries to £95k, while Macfarlanes joined the £100k NQ salary club last week. Will the other firms in the silver circle follow suit?

Silver circle salary standings:

Firm Trainee pay (Year 1) Trainee pay (Year 2) NQ base rate
Ashurst £47,000 £52,000 £90,000
BCLP £48,000 £52,000 £95,000
HSF £50,000 £55,000 £105,000
Macfarlanes £50,000 £55,000 £100,000
Travers Smith £47,000 £52,500 £90,000

Magic circle trio Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Linklaters all boosted new associate rates to £107k this autumn.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Firms Most List


Asking for a friend

What’s the current NQ base rate?









Welcome to the new Magic Circle friends


Brown Brogues Are Fine

So the difference between HSF (silver circle) and the magic circle is £2K base rate?

Is it not time for a change in status?

The difference between Ashurst / BCLP and Macfarlanes / HSF is greater than with the magic circle.


Sliver Circle

I have a feeling Ashurst will match HSF…



Surely. The firm’s best year on record and partner profits back to £1.1 Mil… why wouldn’t they…



Ashurst will match undoubtedly.


Ralph the Shoe Maker

The magic circle firms were never branded the magic circle on the basis of their NQ salaries. It was because they were more profitable than the other City firms (which, without bothering to check, I am guessing is still the case).


username seems appropriate

MC and SC were never split based on NQ salaries. It came down to general standing and profitability. HSF has been stagnating and underperforming since (a) privatisation work dried up in the the 90s and (b) the GFC and the Australia merger. The rest of the MC have not, and, in many cases, have rebounded far stronger than any other firm (compare A&O and CC’s profits and massive redundancies in 2010-11 to their financial performance now).


Wash the Spoon please

So the difference between HSF (silver circle) and the magic circle is £2K base rate?

Is it not time for a change in status?

The difference between Ashurst / BCLP and Macfarlanes / HSF is greater than with the magic circle.


I know the truth

Eventually all the ‘top’ firms will match pay at a very similar level (around 105-115k). That way they can continue to compete with the US firms.





Phat Whack

That circle isn’t looking so silver anymore 🤑 🤑 🤑


Kirkland 3PQE

Yeah, it’s looking pretty brown, just like my rusty sheriff’s badge after all that dodgy Deliveroo curry I ordered last night, sweating over loan docs at 2.00am.

The only way is US firms boys. It’s worth the stress-induced IBS, believe me.


Liverpool Street Local

Elite Gold Circle Law Firm

No tricks and magic here, just pure gold, no silver!


So will the hours be calm compared MC? If so, starting to think it’s making MC obsolete 🤔



Will the hours be ‘calm’??

Keep that ghetto lingo away from here and the legal industry.

Eloquence is a dying art.



No one cares about NQ salaries – a more useful article would be comparing lockstep vs the salary bands between US and non-US firms…


Clean left shoe

From the amount of articles from LC and RoF, the amount of comments that are generated, and also the fact that firms are constantly responding to pay increases – I’d say quite a lot of people clearly care about NQ salaries.


red rooster calling

What good is it comparing lockstep when a low single figure percentage of people entering one of these firms will ever be partner? Especially since legalcheek is aimed at students/trainees, NQ salary is rather more relevant.


da bb

A lot of MC rejects in this comments section seem very happy


HSF Future Joiner

“The firm said in a statement that the pay rise follows “a review of the market” and that there will be further increases to associate salaries in London and Brussels.”

So, let me get this straight – basically the same salary as MC (with bonus reaching up to ~120k) with even more coming down the line, nicer working hours, essentially the same quality of work, up there in terms of “prestige” level, excellent exit opportunities.

Can’t wait to start.


Boiler Room Boy

“Nicer working hours”

Lmao, may the odds ever be in your favour, young child. 😂🤡



There are no nicer working hours pal. You will be working across from MC and US teams.



The hours are definitely better than US, but MC firms? Not really

But equally, unless you’re in one of the perpetually super busy teams (i.e. corporate) the hours are fine.
Yeah some busy patches and it’s not a 9-5, but they’re totally sustainable. And you don’t need to ditch all of your hobbies/ loved ones…


HSF Enthusiast

So from your experience, which teams are always busy / less busy at HSF?



Corporate M&A. US finance. Corporate Real Estate. IP. Restructuring & insolvency.

That’s generally speaking.
And as a trainee, you’ll be particularly busy in the smaller teams where you’re the only trainee.


ex-HSF US firm

HSF departments like competition and employment are on average much busier than the listed departments, where busy periods consisting of a few 70-90 hour weeks are often followed by down time/TOIL. A lot of NQs in the listed departments don’t meet their first bonus target….


Hey we all earn the same now at NQ sooo 😂😂😂


Hungry trainee who cannot afford food on their -50k salary

Are Ashurst and Simmons mickey mouse firms? Record financials, high expectations wrt billables and yet the comp is £90k (£88k for Simmons) with a packet of expired crisps for bonus. They boutta lose a whole lot of talent to Stephenson Harwood


Still over it

Why do the Ashurst and Simmons fan boys keep bleating on about record financials. Virtually ever decent law firm last year reached record revenue and profit, so what.



Cos Ashurst was going through through a rough patch until recently, but they have come out of it healthily. Dunno about Simmons, absolute mickey-mouse firm.



“Dunno about Simmons, absolute mickey-mouse firm.“

***ALERT ALERT fresher detection radar is flashing red***


BCLP = Tin Circle

How are BCLP silver circle with their PEP lol – sure these are outdated rankings but come on now



The silver circle doesn’t really make sense as a category anymore given how all the firms have gone international with the exception of Travers, Macs and Mishcon.


Patient trainee

Come on CMS 🙂






Good one 🤡🤞👌😘


future trainee

honestly they need to hit at least 95k


Doubt it

They can and should increase but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


Unfortunate wishes

Sadly I agree



Game over.

MC is dead.


Copium Dispenser

Saying that HSF is basically an MC firm is like saying that Durham or St. Andrews are “basically” Oxford.



Well not really. The MC was formed in the 90s when HSF (HS then) was having a down period. It is well known in the city- had the lawyer picked another year, HS would have been in it. Oxbridge v Durham is more about the pace and style of work. This doesn’t apply here.

In addition, HSF is the place in the city for disputes, outperforming the MC. HSF has always been the sixth member of the MC and have heard rumours the legal press are talking about redefining the MC/SC definition.

Admittedly though, strange PR move by the firm not to have matched the MC on pay. For a small fee they could be attracting top talent whereas they have clearly resigned to the fact they are a peg below. Perhaps I’m wrong?

Admittedly though,


Copium Dispenser

*Dispenses 50 ml can of copium*




HSF does not have the same prestige, clients, profitability, nor breadth that the MC have.

Also, with respect to Litigation and Arbitration, there are better places to be depending on the type of work you want (W&C, Quinn, MC).



“Quinn” LMAO 😂🤡


lol no

How likely is it that you’ll be working “nicer hours” in the banking, corporate or litigation teams in which most of HSF’s trainees sit? Given that HSF advises on, as you say, similar matters as the MC firms in these areas? Come on lad.



Any news on the future BLM/Clyde NQ salary?


Twelve lawyers and a one biscuit

If they do merge, they are unlikely to mention anything about salaries until it is completed.



I think the OP was inviting ridicule, not the obvious.






LOL. When you take a well-rounded approach to revenue, PEP, profitability, practice area breadth, chambers rankings, culture, training, prestige and exit opportunities… the MC firms are clear in every regard.

Just because entry-level remuneration systems can be matched based on business models, does not mean the SC is challenging in any way. LOL you all applied and got rejected…

Only the US firms have a reasonable argument against MC firms.


Sour grapes ruins my chateau

“Only the US firms have a reasonable argument against MC firms”

Right … offering 50k more to NQs and a boatload more to partners means US firms have reasonable competition with MC does it?

Face the facts. There is a reason law firms are in a pay war at the moment. MC and SC have raised their salaries 3x in the past year. This is because, clearly, many lawyers attach their salary to status.

If the MC and US firms were confident that they would prevail as the most competitive/attractive firms regardless of their salaries, they wouldn’t be hiking them up every time a competitor does would they?



No one ever said salary was not important 🙂 My point was there are factors beyond an NQ salary that attracts the top lawyers to MC firms.

You have to think: exit opportunities and CV value, Partner payouts, clients they are working with & headline deals, broad practice area strength…

No SC firm can offer all of the above like MC firms. Macfarlanes can offer the PEP, but then lacks on breadth for example. HSF offers the breadth but then lacks on PEP. MC is the only one that ticks all the boxes…

Do not get your hopes up on a reshuffling of the legal hierarchy is all I am saying.


The cool jazzy lawyer with green trousers

People applying for training contracts most certainly consider the NQ salary over everything you’ve just mentioned.

Firms know that hence why they’re increasing them left right and centre

It’s more lateral hires who will consider what you said


Rolling the eyes

What ARE you talking about Macs for one is a full service firm, strong in real estate, litigation, corporate and funds and private clients .

And HSF PEP isnt bad and has no impact on junior lawyers anyway.


Alan Turing £50 notes

It’s time for Legal Cheek to get a picture with the new £50 notes, the depicted banknotes will no longer be legal tender in less than a year’s time.


Rash from working long hours

Not nicer working hours – I have mates who joined their real-estate and corporate teams and are getting beasted and want out!


Slaughtered. Dismayed.

This is just getting embarrassing for Slaughters now…






P*ss off mate



Domain-driven design, Lenstra–Lenstra–Lovász lattice basis reduction algorithm?

Good one!


SC differentiator

Embarrassing for Travers not to differentiate from Ashurst and BCLP


Rumour mill

Rumour has it Ashurst will go to £105K


Andrew east

Working there may be grim but at least few pieces of silver to compensate. Life is great, live the dream at hsf


HSF client

I agree with all the comments above that the current MC/SC categorisation of firms being totally outdated, now confirmed with HSF brining its associate salaries in line with the ‘MC’ (and so they should).

As a legal counsel who instructs HSF and a couple of the ‘MC’ firms for a big FTSE business, I can tell you the quality and client perception of work received from the ‘MC’ and HSF are no different, in fact the business prefers HSF for most of its mandates across the board. So given the general client perception of HSF, the quality of work, associate NQ salary, partner PPE, etc, etc, I’d definitely say it’s time to recognise HSF as the sixth member of the MC (and I think many clients would feel the same)!



Lol no client gives a crap about who is considered in the Magic Circle and is gagging for HSF to be recognised as such. You sound like a HSF vac schemer or future trainee at best.



What sort of “legal counsel” posts on Legal Cheek articles to defend a random firm’s status in the eyes of second year law students?


Oh Neillll

A fictitious one


"HSF client" more like "Incoming HSF vacation scheme attendee"



Liar Pants on Fire

P*ss off fresher


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