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Freshfields sets down marker for magic circle rivals as it boosts NQ lawyer pay to £125k

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Bonus on top

Freshfields has increased newly qualified (NQ) solicitor pay by a quarter to £125,000, setting down the marker for its magic circle rivals to follow suit.

The firm today confirmed after months of speculation that NQ base rates have moved by a hefty 25% from £100,000 to £125,000, effective 1 May 2022. NQs are also eligible for a discretionary bonus on top of the sizeable six-figure sum.

Claire Wills, London managing partner, said in a statement:

“We have increased our NQ salary rate to £125,000 with effect from 1 May 2022. We remain focused on attracting and rewarding the highest quality talent to deliver excellence for our clients. We believe that our package of financial and non-financial incentives, including paid qualification leave and career development opportunities, underpinned by effective work allocation and an inclusive working environment, offers a truly market-leading proposition.”

Freshfields offers 80 training contracts each year and pays trainees £50,000 in year one, rising to £55,000 in year two.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

The major money move means Freshfields now offers the highest NQ salary of the five magic circle firms. Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Slaughter and May all pay £107,500 upon qualification, our 2022 Firms Most List shows.

Freshfields was the first of the fivesome to increase NQ base rates to £100k back in May 2019, igniting a pay war across the City. Chances are it could do the same again.

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118 Comments

North of the wall

Brace yourself, the comments are coming…

(100)(2)

Praise be to J. William Freshfield

Freshfields is back!

(33)(1)

Expect more increases across all tiers

If this is not an April fools, Freshfields has just ignited another round in the pay war.

(111)(1)

FBD associate

Can confirm not an April fools

(20)(0)

Anon

It’s not, they’ve already updated their graduate website:
https://ukgraduates.freshfields.com/what-can-i-achieve/salary-and-benefits

Just bad timing with the announcement being today. Says they offer 4 weeks paid quali leave too whereas most firms are only unpaid.

(68)(1)

Anon

Macs pays quali leave too

(8)(2)

Future Freshfields

In what universe is Freshfields not the best MC firm?

(75)(31)

Anon

In the legal rankings 🙂

(59)(7)

Anonyme

The universe where Tom Holland is the latest Spider-Man

(16)(1)

US firm associate

Never thought I’d say this but hats off to Freshfields. It’ll probably take the rest of the Magic Circle a couple of months to follow (or at least a year in Slaughters’ case).

(131)(1)

April fool

So obviously a gag

(5)(43)

April Fool

Gotcha

(11)(20)

Twelve

I wonder if mid tier firms who just about pushed to 80k are really gutted now

(41)(1)

Cicero

Most mid-tiers, Eversheds, BCLP, CMS, DLA Piper actually went up to £95k NQ, but seeing this, they probably will feel the pressure to up by another £10k this summer.

For the last 5 years these firms have paid roughly 80%-85% of the MC NQ salaries, which makes sense given they have billable targets of 1500-1600 hours versus the average MC lawyer who bills c.2000 hours (N/A to transactional lawyers where the hours are longer even at the mid tiers).

(26)(6)

anon

FYI – You do not need to bill 2000 at FBD to hit the biggest bonus.

(25)(4)

Anon

As a future trainee at a mid tier paying a smidge below 80k, I still like all of the increases.

Regardless of what my specific firm pays, these salary increases result in the entire market responding and eventually it trickles down to smaller firms.

Either way, these articles are making salaries more transparent and, in turn, firms more responsive to match competitors and so I’m all for it.

(89)(1)

Common Sense Prevails

All those saying April Fools – faking a quote from the Freshfields London MP is a quick way to a legal case against them – just not going to happen

Also been reported on The Lawyer

(56)(3)

Dispassionate Observer

To be fair, a Freshfields NQ will probably be on £130-135k max including bonus. A US NQ (on Cravath scale) will be getting around £180k including bonus. There’s typically been a £40/50k pay difference between US and MC firms so this gets back to that.

It’s the MC associates who’ve been underpaid in the last couple of years as US salaries and bonuses raced ahead.

(41)(3)

Anon

I’ve looked at the structure yesterday. It’s not 10% I absolutely assure you.

(19)(0)

Retrospect

Whats the max bonus of a US associate at mid/senior associate?

(4)(0)

Anon

I have seen 100k for 5 yr+ at US firms

(10)(0)

US firm associate

At my shop (Cravath scale), Class of 2014 associates are on £305k base. Last year they got bonuses of £95k and a special bonus of £40k on top so say £400k this year (unlikely to be special bonuses given the cooler market).

The MC firm I came from was giving senior associates £160-180k…

(21)(1)

Little US mover

I’m at a big, we’ll paying US firm and NQs are on £158k plus first year Cravath scale bonus (which is pro rated depending on start date) – so the gap is smaller than people think – but still about £40k after bonuses.

The real gap opens up after about 3-4 years. I honestly think (having come from a MC firm) that you’re still better training at a MC firm, staying at a MC firm for your first 2-3 years and then if you are okay with hours at around 2,000 a year and want to stay in the law, look to move to a US firm. The training is catching up at US firms but it still lags behind, as do the English law precedents, and so I think you’re better off learning your craft at a place with all the bells and whistles and then moving to a leaner shop when you have the skills and confidence – but that’s just me.

(29)(0)

Freedom of Information

We demand to see pay levels across all PQE bands, not just a shiny NQ rate.

US firms do this. What have you got to hide Freshfields?

(100)(2)

Associate

Then start reporting them in the tip offs to legal cheek like I’ve been doing – Firm, PQE, salary. If they get enough they can do an article

(42)(0)

Happy Friday

HUGE increases to bonuses too from NQ to senior associate – and not solely tied to hours (still get 40% of the bonus even if you don’t hit X amount of hours, if you’re performing well).

Very, very welcome within the firm

(43)(2)

Anonymous

As a future trainee at the firm, love it!

(4)(6)

praise be to the journos

I’m not a big fan of journalists (to put it lightly) and Legal Cheek does pump out some tripe but sites like this have played a big role in promoting salary increases for lawyers (a snowball effect as each increase is so widely publicized and trickles down across the legal system).

Thank you from a happy beneficiary (not Aishah or a fanboy!)

(77)(2)

Legit guys

It’s not April fools, law.com confirmed

(8)(0)

Lol

How many people wanna bet one of the magic circle firms is gonna increase to same amount?

And how many people wanna bet a US firm will increase to 170k for NQ (that just sounds crazy saying this lol)

Gonna be a lot rich young 20 – 30 year old lawyers roaming about lol

(27)(2)

Proud owner of a Clapham studio

170k is an excellent salary for someone in their mid 20s-30s but it certainly isn’t “rich”, particularly in London. At a stretch I’d say “comfortably well off”. No better pay, inc bonus, than a similar age coder at one of the tech sector’s equivalent “magic circle” members.

(22)(72)

Anon

Rich is relative. 170k puts you in the top 1% of earners in the UK. To most people you are very rich. Compared to a partner you will feel poor.

(64)(1)

Hg

Ok, I didn’t mean literally “rich” you know what I mean lol

(5)(22)

X

Us firms won’t raise based on UK competitors

(10)(0)

US 6 PQE

US shops won’t go to £170K unless and until NY salaries go up, as London offices of US shops peg to their NY salaries.

Hats off to Freshfields. This increase is going to sting the other MC members very badly, if they follow. FBD have done well in the past 5 years to set up shop in the US with some decent M&A and PE hires in LA and NY. That’s helped them to win some MUCH more profitable US mandates that also generate work in London (and elsewhere), at much higher rates than European mandates. That’s why they will struggle less than A&O, CC, and LL to offer this level of increase.

With return to office (which comes with an increase in overheads again), a 25% hike of salary costs, and the market for M&A work finally levelling out after 2 crazy years, this may cut significantly in PEP for MC shops.

(16)(3)

Sceptical Tory

In fairness A&O has also been building out its US practice fairly well – it just happens to be the case that the profits from there stay there in the form of super-compensated partners & Cravath-scale-paid associates.

I doubt that FBD is cross-subsidising London associate salaries using its NY salaries, if that is what you are suggesting. The US partnership will probably hold on to those.

(4)(2)

WILL.I.AM

I’ve got a feeling – that the rest of the MC won’t match this. I really hope they do. But I think Links, S&M, etc, are too greedy.

(15)(9)

Anon

There seems to be a clear distinction forming between what FBD does and the rest. If even one of them matches the rest will have to follow so it all rests on that.

(31)(12)

Anon

They definitely will.

There’s no way CC, A & O and Linklaters will allow a 20k gap. Maybe 5-10k but 20k is crazy.

S&M, however ,is another story lol

(16)(0)

Kirkland NQ

I surrender and take back all previous posts. I was wrong.

(71)(3)

Slaughters Partner

Damn…we were already past the deadline for sending the conclusions of the first Remuneration Philosophy Review

(42)(1)

SM first seat trainee sitting in one of the three corporate teams enjoying a varied diet of multispecialist work

There’s more to work than just making money. One of the reasons I’m training at Slaughters is because of the really high quality of work – the partners here are significantly more intelligent than at the rest of the MC (and the US firms – but this goes without saying) and you aren’t going to get the same training or experience at Freshfields.

I’d be surprised if SM moved salaries up to match because working with the best lawyers in the city is probably worth c. £20k p/a when you actually think about it. Don’t forget, we also get 30 days of annual leave and for three months last year we got free coffee in the morning. Money isn’t everything.

(22)(181)

I can't tell if this is a joke or not...

… which kind of tells you all you need to know.

(110)(1)

Slaughters 2PQE

“The partners here are significantly more intelligent than the rest of the MC (and the US firms- but this goes without saying)”- you have been at the firm what 2 weeks (excluding introduction)? How on earth could you possibly determine this in 2 weeks? This type of arrogance is exactly what gives the firm a bad reputation. Get your head out of your ass as this absolutely stinks.

(113)(7)

Lol

Whooooshh

(21)(0)

You're joking

Sorry, you think that the partners at S&M are so smart that it’s worth you paying to work for them?

If that’s the case, I think it’s more that their juniors are incredibly dim…..

(54)(4)

Bob

Standard S&M lawyer with absolutely no sense of humour – the post was clearly satire.

(59)(1)

Jo

Sorry, you think that the partners at S&M are so smart that it’s worth you paying to work for them?

If that’s the case, I think it’s more that their juniors are incredibly dim…..

(15)(1)

Kool Aid OD

“the partners here are significantly more intelligent than at the rest of the MC”

I am dead

(37)(1)

The Truth Siren

Everyone thinks their partners are smarter than others. It’s not about the firm, it’s about specific partners. You have good partners and bad partners everywhere.

With all the respect in the world, for a first seater to assess that the partners are S&M are “significantly more intelligent” than at MC firms is slightly naive and pretentious.

I have worked with S&M, and they definitely have fantastic partners. But they also have some partners and some associates who don’t necessarily have the best breadth of practice (despite the statements you make above).

(24)(1)

Mr Five Per Cent

Take a bow, son.

(10)(0)

person

quality s**tpost. How do people not get this is obviously satire?

(90)(1)

Anon

Because they don’t work at s&m

(39)(0)

Third seater in corporate also enjoying multispecialism to the max

Phenomenal chat

(16)(1)

Other MC Firm TC Holder

Can someone please explain in clear terms what the hell this “multi-specialist” thing is and if/how it actually makes Slaughters different from the other MC firms. Does it even make a difference to the life of trainees or junior associates?

(4)(20)

Oofler

Oof for the mid level firms (looking at you pinsents).

FF’s raise will have knock on effects in that mid bracket. The few mid tier firms yet to raise were planning on ‘hiking’ to 80s this month but now they either have to reassess or (continue to) look rubbish.

(27)(2)

Fix up

They absolutely have the raise.

The mid level firms thag haven’t at least reached 80k yet need to do something or they are going to bleed associates and applicants fast.

(11)(1)

Assoc

Bleed them to where? Are all the mid tier lawyers going to FF now?

(1)(2)

Truth

Tbh, decent candidates at mid tier firms move to richer fields. The ones left behind can gripe about being paid less but, realistically, few places for them to go.

(6)(2)

Nonny Moose

lol @ the 7.5k rises from most of the other MCs a few months ago. they look cheap in comparison now.

(21)(4)

Barmy

Hearing Addleshaws NQ will be going to 100 in response. What a time to be alive.

(29)(5)

G

Lool believe that when I see it. If they go up ES, DLA deffo will

(17)(2)

AGlifer

ES already at 95 – AG will def match that and then might as well make a play.

(14)(5)

“AG will def match that”

Lol ur a dreamer AG won’t even raise to 90k

(18)(8)

See you soon

Lol, wait and see.

They matched Eversheds to 85 and have already briefed internally that it’s going up this month. Give it two weeks then come back and admit you got it wrong.

Addleshaws pay 82 not 85.

Addleshaws pays 82 not 85.

Jordan Powell

Just been told by my recruiter who bagged me a job at AG that they’ll be paying £95k to NQ effective 1 July!

Anonymous

I hope so – I’m starting in June as a 2 year PQE (coming up to 3 in Sep). Any NQ rise should have a knock on effect for later PQE.

(0)(0)

Jim Brown

And Pinsents still pay just £75k NQ salary???

(26)(2)

Come on now

“Still”… None of the announced rises have actually come into effect yet. Fully expect Pinsents to match ES/AG in the regions and in the City and everyone will get their rises at much the same time (May-June). There’s no prizes for who announces first.

(6)(6)

Actually…

DLA raises were effective from 1 Jan

(11)(2)

US firm NQ on 140k

US firms paying around the 140k mark for NQs (Cleary; dechert; white & case, according to LC) need to make a move. This raise from Freshfields is a total game changer for those firms, who (a) will struggle to attract MC NQs to work much harder for an extra 15k, and (b) will lose trainees who will churn to MCs upon qualification.

(39)(6)

Hate to break it to ya

Really isn’t that impressive when you calculate take home pay. 500 quid a month more than the silver circle, for US firm hours…

(16)(28)

Anon

It is very impressive for the number of associates they take on and their PEP vs US firms. And for a full service practice, the idea of an employment NQ earning 125k is really quite staggering.

(64)(3)

Join us

Pensions associate here who hit 1350 hours last year (and got a good appraisal). I’m at a firm paying £105-110k NQ.

Can confirm it’s a very good deal. Hoping my firm will up again following this.

(20)(0)

Anon

You’ll also be first to get the chop when the impending economic downturn hits

(5)(16)

Join us

Based on what? Pensions is advisory and non-cyclical. Economic downturns generate work for pensions lawyers (apply your commercial awareness to figure out why that is).

Don’t comment with statements rather than questions if uninformed.

Sceptical Tory

Why would they be? Not all of their work will be M&A support.

Anonymous

Congrats. Unfortunately you’re still a pensions lawyer though…

(0)(1)

Hmm

NRF still at 95k NQ. Wonder what they’ll increase it to.

(14)(3)

anon

96

(51)(0)

Pay War Enjoyer

We’re so back.

(45)(0)

Garth

The magic circle is a myth.

(21)(17)

Tyrone

It’s true. It’s damn true.

(15)(1)

Ricky

Magic circle = silver circle pay for US hours.

(40)(4)

Lilian

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

(14)(8)

Happy Goodwinite

I work at Goodwin – I win

(13)(8)

Lilian enjoyer

Dreshfields Fruckhaus Beringer

(18)(1)

Josef

I’m a future trainee (starting in 2024) at a US firm that currently has an NQ salary of around 160k. What will it be by the time I am actually an NQ (four years) at this rate?

(2)(37)

MC 3 PQE

So those US firms still paying only £145k at NQ – just £20k extra for the step up to US firm service levels from cushy MC gig? Definitely not worth the move anymore if they stay at £145k. US would need to retain the traditional £40k difference to keep parity with this.

(5)(8)

US firm associate

I’m at a firm paying £160k NQ but, to be fair to the US firms in the £140-145k space, the total including bonus for an NQ is going to be £160k (it’s £180k for us). For Freshfields, it’ll be £130k max including bonus so that’s a £30k difference at least.

Bear in mind that UK firms are obsessed with making the NQ rate look as good as possible as they don’t publish rates up the scale. The difference gets starker as you become more qualified. For a 3PQE associate like you, my firm is paying £218k base and £42k bonus so £260k in total. Even at Freshfields, you’ll be on what £150k in total? By the time you’re a senior associate, you could be earning double your MC salary at a US firm

(19)(6)

Cravath

Think you need to learn about MC bonuses before you speak with such authority on a topic you are not very well informed on. No one at FBD or any other MC will ever get a 5k bonus. Bonus ranges are 15-30% plus additional bonuses (based on hours etc) of another 20-50%. Of course there are firm to firm nuances.

(11)(12)

Assoc

Incorrect – FBD’s bonuses are so big that a 3 PQE will earn over £200k total comp. Someone promoted quickly and above expectation could get £250k.

(7)(13)

Happy US associate

Exactly. The basic pay scale for 7+ PQE for any of the US firms following Cravath scale (Simpson, Gibson, Latham, Skadden, Goodwin, Kirkland, Akin, etc) is $530,000 including your minimum basic bonus for hitting target hours. Last year, everyone also received a $64,000 covid bonus plus a $21,000 special bonus – so that’s $600,000 all in for 7+ PQE. If you excel, you get paid an extra (up to) $80,000 (but admittedly, that is a very small group). On top of that, you have the really cool perks, free healthcare, wellness, holidays, all expenses trips to the US, etc.

So in summary, there’s not really much of a discussion to be had on benefits b/w MC and US – US is miles ahead, and is more so the more senior you get.

But, advice: if you’re a new grad, pick somewhere (whether it be US or MC) based on pay, fine, but also, most importantly, culture – see if you match the personalities within that firm – I assure you some are nicer than others.

(22)(3)

anon

I echo the comments above me – this is incorrect. I speak as someone actually at one of these firms, not a fresher.

Bonuses are around 30-40%. This does not include team-specific bonuses you will find at A&O Lev Fin, FBD PE etc.

(5)(2)

curious

do trainees get any bonus at all at us firms paying 145+

(0)(2)

Warwick Law

Excellent – I’ll be attending their spring scheme next week and hopefully be fast-tracked to the interview stage of the vacation scheme application process.

The spring scheme clashed with an offer I had with Simmons & Simmons. I was genuinely conflicted (why do all the extra work for virtually the same pay?) and considered going to Simmons, but this seals the deal for FBD!

(4)(69)

🚨🚓 FRESHER DETECTED 🚓 🚨

Time to start revising for those Criminal Law exams instead of showing off your first year schemes on Legal Cheek. The notes won’t write themselves!

(27)(1)

Anonymous

All I can say kiddo, get a life! The money isn’t worth it

(7)(0)

Anonyme

This has got to be satire, right?

(15)(0)

Fresher

Probably not satire, seeing as the Simmons and Freshfields first year schemes are both on 6-7 April 2022…

(9)(0)

dying rn

Warwick Law 🤣🤣🤣🤣

(12)(4)

Anonymous

I hope so – I’m starting in June as a 2 year PQE (coming up to 3 in Sep). Any NQ rise should have a knock on effect for later PQE.

(4)(0)

Lol

Loooool some of the comments on here so naive – you’re in for a shock in practice.

(13)(0)

k

AG gone to 95k now…lol why they copying ES and DLA

(8)(1)

Told ya

I’m hearing 100….

(1)(3)

Strapped4Cash

Freshfields have just upped their LPC grant too and are paying current students the extra cash. Starting the financial year strong!

(3)(0)

grant

How much have they upped their grant to?

(1)(0)

Freshfields future trainee

How much? I’m a future trainee and haven’t about this

(4)(0)

FBDaddy

12.5k, paying the extra 2.5k out in next few weeks.

(0)(0)

More more more

AG is 95k and 62k in regions.

RPC has also increased

(5)(0)

PSA!! PSA!! PSA!!

CAN ALL ASSOCIATES AT ALL LAW FIRMS KINDLY SEND THEIR PQE BAND AND SALARY (BASE + BONUS FOR THE RESPECTIVE FISCAL YEAR) TO THE LEGAL CHEEK TIPOFFS SECTION PLEASE?

We need to get more transparency on this and stop these law firms from just flashing and flexing with 1 figure for NQ. Would be good to get as close as possible to the transparency standard in the American BigLaw market.

(11)(0)

Fd

You could earn quarter of milllion at Simpson thatcher by 3 pqe

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Or £450k by 7PQE at any of the US paying top

(0)(2)

someone who actually works at Latham

BS

(1)(1)

Sigh

Yeah at the expense of your mental and physical health..no thanks

(1)(0)

anon

It’s the same as at MC, you just get paid more. And no, it’s not BS, Cravath pay scale is public info…

(0)(0)

Figo

I’m just going to put this out there for the record – Freshfields’ bonus package is intended for a standard associate billing 1800 hours, with a normal review, to hit the Cravath scale base salary (not taking into account bonuses).

There is flexibility up and down depending on ratings (above or below normal) and above or below 1800 hours – not the sharp cliff that is the US style requirement to hit a fixed bonus target (which is often higher than 1800 anyway).

So yes, this is absolutely huge and the rest of the UK firms need to catch up.

(2)(1)

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