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London NQ lawyer pay hits record £161,500

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US outfit Goodwin ups junior rates to unprecedented levels — also unveils new perk which sees it pay for their holidays

The salaries of newly qualified (NQ) solicitors have reached unprecedented levels in London, with US law firm Goodwin Procter confirming its fresh faced associates will now earn over £160,000 a year.

The Boston-headquartered outfit announced rates for junior lawyers will move from £147,000 to £161,500 — a bump of almost 10%. Their US counterparts will earn $215,000.

The Legal Cheek 2022 Firms Most List shows the move puts Goodwin firmly at the top of the junior lawyer pay table, with Milbank and Vinson & Elkins sitting just behind with salaries of $215,000 (roughly £159,000) and £153,300 respectively.

Goodwin confirmed boosts for those further up the associate scale too. Lawyers with one and two years post qualification experience (PQE) will earn £169,000 and £188,000, while those with three years PQE will see their salaries swell to £214,000.

Trainee salaries currently sit at £52,000 in year one and £57,000 in year two.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

The big money move is made all the more impressive given the firm upped NQ rates not once but twice in 2021: an uplift in February to £137,500 followed by another in July to £147,000.

Last week Milbank fired the starting pistol on a fresh round of rises, upping NQ rates to $215,000. Other firms to have since matched include Cadwalader, Fried Frank and McDermott Will & Emery.

But with big salaries come long hours. Exclusive Legal Cheek research found that junior lawyers across elite US firms in London were clocking up 14-hour work days — with the shift to remote-working only serving to ramp up their screen time.

Separately, Goodwin announced that it will pick up the bill for its lawyers’ holidays.

The mega-perk, ‘Recharge on Goodwin’, means eligible associates — those who billed 1,950 hours in 2021 — can choose from a selection of “thoughtfully curated” week-long trips, including an “island escape, urban exploration, winery tour, luxury spa and wellness and family-friendly Disney trip packages”.

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81 Comments

Maurice

This is not a salary for a job

This is compensation for a lifestyle of being on call 24 x 7 x 365 ⏳

(231)(14)

anon

Exactamundo – hard to fathom how you could be happy working those kind of hours. But then perhaps happiness isn’t the goal here.

(37)(6)

Anon

Yep, and it’s better compensation than that offered by MC and other large U.K. firms.
If you’re in a transactional department at a U.K. firm (and the majority of lawyers at those firms are too, it’s not just at US firms), you’re also on call 24/7.
I’d rather get 160k and a chunky bonus than 100k, thanks.

(94)(9)

Green

Stop you’re not on call 24/7 at a shop like Travers for instance. Stop making these comparisons to “uk firms” to justify the pursuit of more money at US. Goodwin is notorious for its hours. The hours at many (not all) US firms are indeed worse, that is simply a fact. Weekend work is also often worse.

The point is whether for some people the sacrifice is worth it. And for many people in their twenties from average backgrounds and keen go build wealth- it is. But let’s not act as if everyone is pulling US hours.

(55)(20)

anon

At most big UK firms you are. There may be limited exceptions, but in the MC/SC category, you most certainly are.

(37)(12)

Anonymous

I disagree. In a transactional team at an SC firm, I am acutely aware that I may be emailed/called at any time for something. I have worked during holidays, I have done multiple all-nighters this last year and multiple weekends (to varying degrees), taken calls at 10pm on Sundays etc. The hours may not be as bad as a US firm but they’re not far off. Not such dissimilar beasts.

(48)(7)

Truth

Your practice is averaging 1600-1700 billable hours top. These US firms are doing 2100 – 2500 on average. It’s like bragging about your lowlights a if that’s an everyday occurence.

James

Truth. Wrong. The average goodwin associate does 1881.

Neil

This is nonsense. Pretty sure all my mates in SC (bar BCLP as dont know anyone there) have better work life balance. Hours are similar but very few work all weekends and holidays thats complete nonsense. US is a whole other beast

Anonymous

Truth. Also wrong. On for 2k this year and associates at old shop (SC) are also on 2k and have done so previous years too. Not all teams at SC run at 1600-1700.

Buzzkill

Truth – I worked at a Magic Circle firm for 6 years (including trainee). As an associate, I did 1900-2200 hours every year. That wasn’t unusual.

Plus, US firms like Goodwin allow you to count pro-bono, BD hours more aggressively than the UK firms. Goodwin even allows you to count 25 hours of training/CLE.

Anonymous

You might not be on call 24/7 at Travers but you have to live 24/7 with the knowledge that you weren’t cut out for a top tier firm.

(30)(63)

Nicola

“Live with the knowledge” – lol or your could just move. This is when you know a comment was written by a fresher, you lot genuinely believe that firm you start at is the one you stay at

Bantah

Lmaoooo thx for the comment fresher, well done

troof

Honestly and as someone who quite enjoys reading the mindless comments made by university students and wannabe K&E associates, I somewhat loathe myself that I’m actually commenting on one of these articles…

This idea that associates at firms like Travers, Macfarlanes, HSF, Ashurst and ofc the MC have a materially better WLB than associates at a firm like Goodwin is a complete myth. Often these comments about not “having a life” or “being on call 24/7” are from people who don’t work at these firms and in particular, people who have drunk the UK firm kool-aid and are desperate for someone to tell them they’ve made the right decision sticking with their MC/SC/mid-size UK firm.

Yes at Goodwin and many other US firms you work hard. There are weeks or months where seemingly all you do is work but ultimately, as Molly-Mae has said, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. Pretty much every M&A/finance/restructuring associate at a decent City firm (UK and US) has had the busiest 18 months or so of transactions. The market for deal making is ridiculous – everyone is working hard.

Are there weekends that are interrupted by work? Yes. Are there evening plans that are interrupted by work? Yes. As there is at every other firm. Is it every weekend? No. Are all evening plans interrupted? No. I did just over 2,000 hours and I worked 4 weekends tops all year. Did I have annual leave interrupted by work? Yes. Was it at the same rate annual leave was interrupted when I was at my UK firm. Yes. If anything, most (and there are exceptions / d**k heads everywhere) partners actually want you to have a life and want you to get away from work.

So why do it? Why given up a single weekend or run the risk that a holiday abroad is interrupted by work? Because by your late 20s you’ve saved hundreds of thousands of pounds, you have a healthy pension, you’re filling up your ISA and you own your own home be it in London or wherever else. And on top, you have money to go on nice holidays, have meals at nice restaurants, drive a nice car (perhaps not a lambo. but a sensible/vaguely flashy showroom merc. or BMW or Jaguar or whatever else). And you also have money to take your friends or family who aren’t in this world to nice places to eat or to pay for drinks on a night out. There are folk who’ll do this for a few years and walk away with their mortgage paid down and or healthy bank account balances and there are those who will stay and become senior and possibly partners and earn millions.

So is paying NQs 160K a “problem”. No – the legal industry is unique in trying to argue that paying staff more is somehow dangerous. We may be more open about mental health and burn out now but you are naïve if you think those problems didn’t exist when senior associates were being paid 80K at magic circle firms. And it isn’t that associates at US firms are overpaid, it’s that everyone else is underpaid be they lawyers practicing in criminal/family/immigration law or nurses or whatever else. The fact that a small group of people are being paid well is not the problem – the problem is that most people are underpaid.

Do I have skin in the game? Yes I do. I work at Goodwin and by and large one of the nicest places to work (within the context of City firms). Do the hours sometimes frustrate me? Yes they do. But when all is said and done, (a) I knew what I was signing up to when I decided I wanted a TC all those years ago and (b) I look around at my mates at UK firms and I can confidently say I haven’t worked materially harder then they have. And on top I don’t have to worry about all those things that are synonymous with UK firms (opaque bonus structures / endless politics / opaque promotion prospects / concerns that my salary is bunched too close to the NQ in my team (for context, yes an NQ earns 161 but as someone only 3 years more qualified, I earn almost a 100K more at base salary alone).

Long may the bun fight in LC comment sections continue – they provide a lot of amusement but the “real” world of City law and US v UK firms out there is not reflective of these comments at all….

(148)(8)

Anon

There are associates pulling 1950 hours at UK firms and getting a box of chocolates and half the pay in return while the likes of Goodwin giving out free first class holidays and almost 200k GBP total remuneration to junior lawyers.

(111)(2)

Anon

They offered this as most people had to cancel their holidays last to due to workload. So we aren’t all that impressed actually.

(46)(9)

MC

I’ve also had to cancel several holidays but didn’t get anything in exchange

(60)(2)

FBD 1 PQE Assoc

I am on track for 2350 hours so…

(26)(0)

Anon

130k tho

(4)(1)

Anon

Literally no reason to stay on those hours

(8)(0)

MC

Some magic circle NQs are also on call 24/7 but don’t get compensated in the same way.

(53)(0)

The truth

Totally agree. Young folk misunderstand this. Oh its so much money… I mean even if you sweat it out for 4 years you’re unlikely to leave with a truly life changing amount of money…especially if you want to live in London.

Conversely if you skimp and fight lifestyle inflation you may leave with a lot of money…and likely a bigger waistline, far less friends, no significant other because of INSANE working hours, and a psychopathic personality cultivated by being on edge for the last 4 years.

Especially now most firms will keep a heavy degree of WFH, you’re not going to meet many potential partners/friends etc from your childhood bedroom… but you may have 50k saved! good for you

(28)(14)

Good for us!

This is far from the reality of those *actually* working at these firms. Yes, there are sacrifices and adjustments you have to make but it’s really not as bad as you’re making it out to be (or maybe it’s just a different lifestyle to the one you would prefer).

You almost sound bitter but I won’t say that is ‘The Truth’ simply because that’s what I think.

(24)(5)

Anon

I work at Goodwin. Average hours is 1880 (officially based on FY21 stats). Culture is fantastic – everyone is motivated, but people care. Partners are largely empathetic. Clients can be difficult but that’s everywhere. Compensation/benefits reflect a culture of sharing the financial benefits of success – at the top end, senior associates received $64 COVID bonus, $115k base bonus and $25k special bonus (automatic bonuses if you hit 1950 hours and pro rated to 90% if you hit 1850 hours). If you get distinction rating you get up to 75% extra bonus. £280k salary on top plus a $10k holiday. Gym membership + health care + dental + a £60 a month wellness payment. London partners could do half of this and associates would still be happy, but all of this shows they care and want to share in the financial success of the firm.

(35)(6)

Beachcroft NQ

Just to clarify we should also say NO to £161,500 mkay guys

(30)(5)

Regional Lawyer

There is no one worth that much – especially not the dross they employ at Goodwin.

(18)(54)

Bundabunda

Ok regional ‘lawyer’

(56)(2)

Anon

I actually had an interview there for a junior position. After the round one interview I was told it was between me and one other candidate. According the the feedback, I was “clearly ahead in terms of technical ability” (I’m not quite sure how they ascertained this given the interview was already much less technical than I would have anticipated) but the other candidate seemed to have more “passion and drive”…. the recruiter was asked if I could be told to “sell them my passion to work for a firm like this and to show i understand the nature of what is expected” and the job would apparently be mine. (NB I work in a technical area of law).

Thing is – their big pitch (via the recruiter, so perhaps not entirely their fault) was that they are culturally very different (being a new entrant to the “big league” and with a focus on tech, innovation etc.) to the notorious (in terms of work-life) big-payers like Milbank, K&E – and that whilst hours could of course be “variable”, employee health was “prioritised” and holidays and weekends were “protected” (at least to a much greater degree than their rivals). This is why I did finally pick up the phone in the first place (if you’re a junior at a MC firm, as I then was, your phone is rarely off the hook in terms of calls from US firms (or their recruiters) offering big bucks).

I was very skeptical, but the pay is huge (but then consequently more skeptical because the pay is huge…) – so I went along but continued to press them (gently) on what exactly they meant by these claims on WLB, as I had no intention of working for a K&E (but if pay was 50% more than my current job for similar hours, then why not, if the pitch was remotely genuine?).

From feedback from my second interview, they still didn’t quite see my “passion”, “drive” or “fit” (I asked questions about hours, weekends and holidays) so I was informed they went with the technically less able candidate (being their words as relayed by the recruiter, I have no idea as to the other candidate’s technical ability of course), so I was saved from having to myself decide on this Faustian bargain. (I’d pretty firmly decided “no” by this point, mainly based on the first interview feedback giving me terrible vibes, but I can’t pretend that if they’d actually offered the job I wouldn’t have considered it – the money is insane and apparently only getting bigger…)

So I think it is unfair to call the people they employ “dross”. But they do seem to prioritise endurance over technical ability, even in a technical area of law. Which I suppose is of course the correct approach for them to take given the circumstances.

(96)(2)

Anon

Insights like this are golden, thanks for sharing.

(68)(1)

Anon

Good and informative post.

It also helps dispel the Legal Cheek student myth that the lawyers at these US shops are automatically the best of the best. They aren’t.

There are some brilliant lawyers there. There are some dreadful lawyers there. The common factor is that the individuals have a personality trait where they can get hammered relentlessly without cracking and can clearly handle stress, lack of sleep and lack of social life. That doesn’t mean they are any better than lawyers elsewhere.

If that’s what some people want and what the market will pay for, then fair play to them. Certainly not a lifestyle I would want.

(44)(5)

hmm

I don’t want to dismiss your account outright and perhaps it is exactly as you describe but I do find this hard to believe as someone involved in the Goodwin hiring process. That feedback would involve telling a candidate to “show more passion” is not one that accords with the sorts of internal discussions had about candidates. Certainly, there wouldn’t be push to go with a “technically less able” candidate – Goodwin operates lean deal teams and relies on junior and mid level associates being able to hold their own with minimal supervision. I suspect, and tbf you alluded to this in your post, you may have been fed lines by your recruiter who ultimately failed to land you the role / missed out on a hefty commission. That said, good luck with whatever it is you’re doing.

(27)(5)

Anon

Yeh fair enough – as I said, the feedback was received via the recruiter, so who knows – I can only report what I have been told. However, whilst I can certainly see how a recruiter has an interest in massaging a candidates ego following a rejection (to keep them on side for the next role) – I can’t see any incentive for them to lie at the stage between first and second interview (which is the focus of my post, I didn’t discuss or receive feedback following the second interview). Why would they tell an in-play candidate to focus on “passion”/”drive” if more accurate feedback could help land them their hefty commission?

Equally – it is perfectly legitimate to focus on those attributes given the work expectations, and Goodwin is clearly doing extremely well with this model – so good luck to you too.

(11)(0)

Honest Truth

The facts is you’re just a reject who couldn’t make it into a Tier 2/3 firm.

Anon

Agreed, Goodwin has a great culture. The firm employs smart, technically strong lawyers with a good sense of humour and supportive nature. The sharp elbowed brigade are actively avoided.

(6)(4)

Anon

Chippy

(3)(2)

Anon

Articles like this are incredibly unhelpful, the starting salary for a NQ solicitor in crime is around £25k.

(6)(45)

Anon

Ok bro

(20)(2)

Anon

Yes, and everyone knows it.

This is why no-one here wants to be a crimkn solicitor. You only have yourself to blame if you moan about money in criminal aid. It’s not exactly hidden from plain view.

(33)(1)

Rumpole on the Baileys

Yes, because those who are applying for City TCs often get bundled off by Doris the part-time secretary of some high-street criminal defence firm in Stevenage, plied with fortified wine and made to sign indentures.

(13)(3)

Anon

Respect to US firms for not just declaring NQ salary but also the PQE scale. We need to keep putting pressure on UK firms to start doing the same. They are getting away with massive bunching – NQs on 107k but then 1PQ on 110 , 2PQ 120 etc

(125)(0)

US on 1750 hours last year

They won’t because that 50k+ difference at the NQ level before bonuses are even taken into account only gets exponentially bigger up the scale.

(23)(0)

Anon

Goodwin have set a new compensation bar

(13)(3)

Anon

Well done Captain Obvious

(53)(3)

I love the dough

I love the dough – biggie

(12)(1)

Jay z

Absolute tune that. Jay Z had a better verse though

(3)(1)

Maggie

The Lawyer has now started moaning today that junior lawyers are getting paid too much. What is wrong with this industry it’s like they wish for crap pay. Lawyers aren’t even paid half as much as their IB and PE peers.

I say bring it on. However until these rises hit UK firms it’s not enough. Goodwin takes on around 12 NQs….let’s start seeing some significant rises in MC and SC

(68)(2)

Anonymagic (#facts)

Fun fact: Big Law full equity partners usually out-earn most IB MDs unless we’re talking about GS partners or similar.

Big Law and IB compensation is actually very similar until VP level. IB has more “senior but not partner” positions (Director/ED) which surpass Big Law senior associates and counsel salary.

I agree with PE but that’s at a different seniority level. 5-8 years in at a very good PE shop, you may be pulling in a very good carried interest that puts you close to the $1m mark.

(26)(4)

Anon

Junior compensation at big law and IB isn’t similar at all. While most lawyers are still doing the LPC, junior analysts at top banks have already moved onto six figure packages straight out of uni. And while trainees earn around £50k, their peers in banking are already pushing the 200k mark with bonus.

(46)(2)

Truth

This is wrong.

You can make equity partner level money in 7 years in IBD, even if you’re stuck in a BB/EB. If you go buy side, PE shops will compensate you a lot more. Further, your top end is much higher (20m++). If you’re in quant, you could become a billionaire in your life time if you make SP.

Lawyers do get paid a lot, but let’s not kid ourselves that you’re standing in the same lane to make the same as equivalent top end finance professionals (you’re not).

If you need names of companies that will earn you more in an equivalent top role:

Blackstone, Blackrock, Capital Group, Vista, Thoma Bravo… basically any major client of a top Corporate law firm.

(10)(6)

Anon

‘You could become a billionaire’
Yeah, you could, but you could also become a premier league footballer. Probably easier tbh

Why do people need to earn upwards of 1mil a year? Just don’t see the point, but maybe that’s me. As soon as I had enough money to retire and live well I wouldn’t continue working in law or PE ffs

(7)(1)

Truth

The reply was in response to a guy saying Lawyers make more than those in Finance which is wrong. Nothing to do with your moral grandstanding.

Thanks for that

Captain Obvious

(0)(1)

Visually Impressed Onlooker

Nice of Legal Cheek to switch the article photo – makes a nice change

(12)(0)

Anon

If you intend to not have any life, including weekends, then this is a job for you. This amount of money comes with a special requirement – your soul. All of it.

(28)(3)

Apple In-House NQ

It also comes with a brand new iPhone 13 Max Pro, if you’re lucky.

(27)(1)

Down with the liberal elite

I’m sick and tired of hearing bullsh** about how you’re “selling your soul”/“will have no life” if you work at a firm like Goodwin. Give me a break. This attitude more often than not originates from those who grew up comfortably with parents in managerial professions who own their homes. Your comfort makes you complacent. Because of your complacency you cannot understand why anybody would want to put in these kinds of hours, but it is a perfectly rational thing.

A salary like this at the age of 24/25 instantly puts you in the top 2% of earners and quite frankly you’ll be making more than most people ever see in their lifetimes full stop. That’s life changing, ESPECIALLY with current economic conditions where this kind of a salary is a prerequisite if you want own even a decent house in a major British city. The people who make snarky comments about long hours infuriate me. What’s your alternative? Not all of us can rely on mummy and daddy to coast us through pointless journalism careers where you literally earn less than Uber drivers. And have you ever heard of unpaid overtime? There are people in the 40k+ range who are ALREADY working beyond their contractual obligations everyday and they’ll never see 100k let alone 160k. The economic system is what it is and I’d rather have mobility than not.

And a final point about the lifestyle/social life. It’s a f****** office, not a gulag. Why are you pretending that the average person has 50 different friends and parties every night? Most people grow out of student socialising habits when they get a job whatever that job is (unless it’s in a nightclub). Sure you’ll be on call and busy but where there’s a will there’s a way, lawyers and bankers do get married. If you’re a male the extra money doesn’t exactly harm your romantic prospects. You people are pretending that they get sent off to war or something. Have some perspective. Ridiculous.

(137)(12)

Anon

Agree with every word of that.

Can picture the type of kids who say that sort of stuff.
‘Oh yah, I’d never work 60 hour weeks, what a waste of time’ he types on his MacBook from the terraced house in Clapham his daddy bought him.
some kid in my LPC class is living in a 4 bed terraced house in Clapham on his own. His dad bought it for him last year ffs

(39)(3)

Goodwin Big Dawg

Shame tax eats all of it……….

(23)(8)

Leading In-House Lawyer

Will someone please spare a thought for these poor lawyers who are being paid large salaries. For the sake of these lawyers’ well-being I demand that their salaries are made lower. Too much money is dangerous! Protect people from being paid too much money!

(25)(0)

Anonn

I’m in house and earn a nice comfortable 6 figure salary. Good work life balance as well, rarely finishing beyond 7.

I’m happy to carry on paying the private practice drones to churn away late at night and over the weekend if it means I don’t have to.

I’ve chosen my preferred lifestyle. They can choose theirs.

(25)(5)

Anon

What PQE level are you out of interest?

(7)(0)

Dream

Where is this in-house job? This is the dream in my eyes.

(3)(0)

Anon

Will any US firm top this NQ rate?

(4)(0)

Debevoise trainee

Let them match it first.

(0)(0)

James

As a mate at a US shop once told me ‘I may have sold my soul – but I’ve sold it for a fkn good price’

(29)(0)

Anon

wow what a inspirational life quote…

You do realise selling your soul for a good price still isn’t a good life right? Theres a reason IB and law attrition rates are the highest in the country

(6)(2)

Anonymous

Is it really though? I rather attempt to be an social media influencer and earn millions that way

#weallhave24hrs

(8)(0)

F

No price is worth my soul

(4)(5)

Wow

For any age that’s a crazy amount of money but to be in your mid 20s or early 30s..wow, what a life.

(6)(0)

Anon

I work at Goodwin. Average hours is 1880 (officially based on FY21 stats). Culture is fantastic – everyone is motivated, but people care. Partners are largely empathetic. Clients can be difficult but that’s everywhere. Compensation/benefits reflect a culture of sharing the financial benefits of success – at the top end, senior associates received $64 COVID bonus, $115k base bonus and $25k special bonus (automatic bonuses if you hit 1950 hours and pro rated to 90% if you hit 1850 hours). If you get distinction rating you get up to 75% extra bonus. £280k salary on top plus a $10k holiday. Gym membership + health care + dental + a £60 a month wellness payment. London partners could do half of this and associates would still be happy, but all of this shows they care and want to share in the financial success of the firm.

(18)(8)

Anon

that’s true. but IBD jobs are quite difficult to land into (european msc guys get large chuck of it). At least for law, its all from uk unis
Law is the only area where UK law firms compete with the best US firms

(1)(1)

Everything hurts

I’m a NQ at a London firm. I am currently working at midnight. The Goodwin NQ who is probably still working is making nearly £93k more than me.

I have lost this battle, but in too deep to leave now.

Choose London MoneyLaw, regional conveyancing with 5:30PM log off, or a different profession.

(24)(2)

Anonymousse

I worked across Goodwin on a few finance deals last year, and they were by some way the most aggressive firm I’ve dealt with, particularly at the senior end. Obviously not every department at the firm will be the same, or indeed every individual within that department, but on the basis of that experience I’d avoid working there like the plague.

(12)(30)

Fakenews

Hmm, there’s one charming 3rd year associate at least in that finance team who’s very nice – he knows who he is…

(49)(0)

Interesting

Weird. I had a complete opposite interaction. Their REFs team were very commercial and sensible, actually.

(20)(2)

d

So senior associates could be earning almost half million quid – mate get me at big law, I don’t mind grinding.

(8)(0)

Q

Do people at kirks really work on average till 11.30 pm every day? That’s what putting me off from applying there tbh

(1)(1)

Kirkland 3PQE

Yes, we do as far as I can tell. It’s part of the deal and we all knew that before got on board. If you don’t think that’s for you, it definitely isn’t the place for you. In fairness, they’re very transparent about it.

(4)(2)

Anon

Even Trainees?

(0)(0)

Mr Five Per Cent

Let’s face it, after tax even the best paid equity partners at US law firms are only on decent salaries. £2m per year post HMRC theft wouldn’t be enough to make me work those hours. I’d rather get experience of industry with a chance of owning a company and making some real money later on in life.

(6)(12)

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