What top City firms will pay in maintenance to future SQE trainees

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Financial grants range from £12,500 to £17,000

Top City law firms have begun to disclose what they will pay in maintenance to future trainees undertaking the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), with sums ranging from £12,500 to £17,000.

Magic circle firms Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter and May have confirmed the financial support they will provide SQE trainee cohorts later this year.

Freshfields and Linklaters will offer £17,000 in maintenance grants, whilst Slaughter and May will provide £16,000.

The trio are part of the ‘City Consortium’, an influential group of six law firms that will send their trainees to train exclusively at BPP University Law School. The other three firms, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells and Norton Rose Fulbright, are understood to be reviewing their maintenance grants and will announce any updates in due course.

Beyond the Consortium, Clifford Chance, another magic circle firm who is sending its SQE trainees to The University of Law, last month revealed it will offer £12,500 in financial support. Expect more firms to announce their financial awards as they progress onto the SQE pathway in the coming years.

The 2022 Legal Cheek SQE Provider List

A spate of law firms recently upped the amount of maintenance they pay their trainees on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) by a quarter.

Freshfields and Slaughter and May this month followed Clifford Chance in increasing financial support for LPC students from £10,000 to £12,500, a sum already paid out by Linklaters. Ashurst and Herbert Smith Freehills soon followed with rises of their own to £10,000 and £12,500, respectively.

Legal Cheek understands moves were made after future trainees lobbied their firms to increase the amount they provide in maintenance amid rising living costs.

The SQE officially came into force on 1 September 2021, becoming the new route to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. Sittings for part two of the two-part assessment began on 11 April and are expected to continue until the end of the month. The first SQE1 sit took place in November 2021, with just over half (53%) of candidates making the grade.

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Interesting figures


An anonymous tangent

How enforceable are claw back clauses in relation to LPC / SQE funding?

My firm has a claw back clause requiring repayment of funding in the event of not staying on post-qualification.

Just wondering how enforceable this really is?



it is not.


MC Ass

If you quit the LPC I can understand, but please name and shame the firm trying to claw back LPC fees from NQs… Shameful behaviour.


MC Ass's Mum

Why is it shameful?

Law firms are still business and in most cases have spent a significant amount of resources (financially and otherwise) in training you and allowing you to sit the exams that will allow you to become professionally qualified.

Why shouldn’t there be a clause to say if you are made an offer and leave within say 1 year, post qualification, there is some kind of fee to claw back? I’m not talking a lifetime, but it is objectively fair.



Because you are only contracted to stay with them for your training, that’s why it’s called a training contract. And if they are doing things right, they should be making more than enough off their trainees to recoup any training costs.


MC Ass

Because you are only contracted for the TC, and by the end of the TC you have likely billed 10x your salary and LPC fees, so the firm has already made a stack of money out of you.



DWF does


claw back? Claw back?!

What are the terms?



Slaughters tried this a few years back for future trainees who failed the LPC. Pretty much sums them up as a firm.



I wouldn’t necessarily term it as a claw back clause. It’s arguably within the same area of holiday pay deductions and expenses.

It’s not uncommon to have terms that indicate where the employer has paid training costs on an employees behalf that such costs are repayable if the employee leaves within a period of time.

Similarly firms may term the funding they give as a loan, which shall be repayable in the event of termination or resignation within the conditional timeframe.






Never seen such a small-time firm, with a universal lack of inter-office cooperation and such an overstated media image.

RP-nothing is what you C.

They’re trying to grow their corporate arm, given their roots seem to be in insurance. I guess they can’t match the likes of CMS, DACB, Clydes and Kennedys on an insurance front.

Doesn’t surprise me they claw back one bit.



They are very common in ordinary employment contracts and perfectly lawful so although some people may not like them for trainees as far as I know under the law they are enforceable.


Junior Barrister

Enjoying all the news re City pay war etc.

Would like it if LC ran a similar article on whether chambers are increasing their fees given the economic climate and, if so, which ones.


Am I bovvered?

It is quite entertaining to see the posters getting excited over being paid half what the junior barristers make at the same age.



There is an article published today (26th) on The Lawyer (Horizon daily newsletter) on this topic


Junior Barrister

Thanks v much.

It’s behind a paywall for me and seems to address pupillage awards only, at least from the headline.

Is that right or is there discussion of fees generally?



You’re welcome

Law firms aren’t the only ones caught in a pay war. Fierce competition for top-tier graduates is piling pressure on the UK’s leading commercial chambers to raise pupillage awards in a similar vein to their deep-pocketed City cousins. Indeed, of the 31 top chambers to provide historical data to The Lawyer, 20 have increased their pupillage awards since 2019.

Just ask Brick Court, which last year became the final magic circle set to meet the £70,000 threshold. It joined eight other chambers in offering £75,000 to their 2023 pupil intake. Brick Court was also among five other chambers – Wilberforce, Essex Court, 4 New Square, 3VB and Crown Office Chambers – which added £10,000 or 15 per cent onto the £65,000 sum awarded to this year’s starters. Not far behind are 39 Essex and Outer Temple, which last year committed to 2023 pupillage awards of £70,000 – again, £10,000 or 17 per cent more than handed out now.

In fact, data shows that 15 of the UK’s leading 31 chambers will be offering £70,000 or more to their 2023 joiners – more than double the six sets to award such sums to its class of 2022. With increases mostly announced last year, it’s only a matter of time before one set boldly moves up to £80,000. Could it be Blackstone, now the last magic circle member to offer £70,000 after upping its award in 2021?

Plenty of sets now offer pupillage awards exceeding £70,000

But the higher the pupillage awards, the more difficult it will be for magic circle sets to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crop. They may argue that prospective pupils also gain prestige from working in a magic circle set, but the amount of money on offer is still important. The magic circle may have to consider whether it’s worth stretching the purse strings further.

That leaves magic circle members with two options. First is to abandon the cautious wait-and-see approach and take control of the pay war by setting a new aggressively high bar that lower-tier rivals wouldn’t dare to match. It may not stop tit-for-tat increases within the magic circle, but it would send a statement to the market. After all, if you want the reputation of being the best at the Bar, prestige should be reflected in all the set has to offer – including pupillage awards.

The second (and less expensive) option is to reconsider the complete package advertised to pupils. One Essex Court already offers opportunities for pupils to supplement the award with any cash generated from fee-earning work completed during training. Brick Court offers interest-free loans of £50,000 as tenants find their feet, while Essex Court guarantees minimum earnings in the first year. If chambers want to stand out, this is a good place to start.



No-one chooses pupillage over £5k when the difference between tenancy and looking elsewhere can make £100k a year difference or more for the first few years and much more after that.

big boy

Hopefully articles like this put some pressure on firms offering £7.5k for 9 months of the SQE.



It’s not as if the SQE is a Masters or MBA, it’s a requirement for you to work at the firm. In that sense really it’s closer to employment than post-grad study, and I can’t think of many other professions that require employees to buy themselves out of a contract. The only reason firms can justify a claw-back is that the training is done externally rather than internally.


interested law student

are you still entitled to student finance, on top of this grant, given you can not add the LLM option



I think unless they do a masters option there is no student loan finance. However there are commercial loans and I doubt law firms include a contract clause that the student may not take one out.


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