£150k junior lawyer salaries are ‘out of control’, top general counsel warns

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By Thomas Connelly on


Network Rail’s leading lawyer Dan Kayne urges profession to find new ways of retaining talent before young associates ‘get hurt’

One of the country’s leading in-house lawyers has criticised the “eye watering” sums of cash being dished out to some newly qualified (NQ) associates.

Dan Kayne, general counsel at Network Rail, said the salaries which can stretch to as much as £150,000 at a small number of elite law firms “is simply way too much” and that he harbours concerns “people will get hurt”.

The top lawyer’s comments come as salaries continue to swell amid growing pressure among law firms to attract and retain the best legal talent. This has been fuelled in part by the pandemic: the shift to home working and the spike in certain types of legal work, particularly M&A, have seen lawyers already working lengthy hours stretched even further.

In comments posted to LinkedIn, Kayne goes on to describe the extra cash as a “sticking plaster” and that “the level of expectation from clients and firms will burn people out before they hit 30”.

Kayne — founder of The O-Shaped Lawyer project that looks to drive positive change and create a more engaged, inclusive and healthy profession — urged firms to find new and creative ways of rewarding and motivating young lawyers.

“We already have a well-being crisis in the profession,” wrote Kayne. “Let’s work together as an industry — clients who subsidise these astronomical salaries and firms who pay them. We all have a responsibility.”

The Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2022 shows only a handful of outfits — all of whom are US headquartered — pay the £150k salaries referenced by Kayne. And the reason they can offer these staggering pay packets is due in part to the small number of trainees they take on each year. Vinson & Elkins, for example, pays NQs a whopping £153,300 but offers just six training contracts annually. Compare this to Linklaters, which dishes out around 100 TCs each year, the highest of any firm in the UK, and pays an NQ rate of £107,500.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

The working hours at US firms are generally higher too. A recent survey undertaken by Legal Cheek — and picked up widely in the national press — found that junior lawyers at some US law firms in London were averaging 14-hour workdays.

This isn’t the first time senior members of the legal profession have gone public with their concerns over junior lawyer pay.

Back in 2020 the managing partner of Fieldfisher, Michael Chissick, hit headlines after he described how his “heart drops when I see newly qualified lawyers in US firms earning more than some of our partners”. He received support in the form of Pinsent Masons senior partner Richard Foley, who described the rocketing rates as “completely unsustainable”.

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