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Akin Gump NQ lawyer salaries hit record £179,000

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Rise due to favourable exchange rate

Akin Gump is understood to now provide the highest newly qualified (NQ) solicitor salaries of any firm in the City following the US giant’s decision to tweak the exchange rate it uses to calculate remuneration this side of the pond.

A fresh faced associate will now earn an astonishing base rate of £179,000 — a full £15k more than Boris was entitled to claim as PM — following the firm’s decision to implement a revised spot rate of £1 = US$1.2005 for the period July to September.

In March, the firm increased NQ salaries to $215,000 in line with the so-called ‘Cravath Scale’ (the salary markers set down by US law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore). Akin Gump, like many US firms operating in London, converts its base rate salaries from dollars to pound sterling to pay its London lawyers.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Initially, the firm used the conversion rate of £1 = $1.3553 which put its March salary hike at £159k. The firm then tweaked this rate to £1 = $1.3109 for April to June, boosting NQ base pay to £164,000. The new London NQ rate of £179,000 could hold or fluctuate after September. The new figure is almost triple what second year trainees receive (£62,500), whilst first years are paid £57,500. There are just six training contracts up for grabs each year at Akin Gump, so expect serious competition if they’re on your target list!

This latest move means that Akin, who already topped the highest NQ pay on The Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2022, have bested their own record and clearly distinguished themselves from other firms who pay in excess of £160,000 such as Gibson Dunn (£161,700), Goodwin Procter (£161,500), Davis Polk (£160,000), Fried Frank (£160,000).

Elsewhere, Weil Gotshal & Manges have become the newest member of the £160k club, raising their NQ pay to £160,000. That’s £100,000 more than current Weil first-year trainees make (£60,000), whilst second year pay sits at £65,000.

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71 Comments

Anonymous

Oh, I-I like money. Cant believe you like money too

(23)(1)

Mr. Panz

Y…you mean… you suffer from the affliction of avarice too?

Maybe we could… y’know… meet up for a very expensive coffee somewhere… sometime…?

(6)(1)

Anon

Kirkland NQ on the ropes

(65)(1)

Hhhhhhhhhh

Legal Cheek salary for K&E not up to date.

(8)(20)

Kirkland NQ

Sorry could you repeat? Can’t hear you over the sound of my Lambo. Also internet here on my private island sucks.

(12)(44)

The Pragmatic Gentleman

Stop playing these games bro . . . . . this “Kirkland NQ” gimmick has been beaten to death.

(25)(10)

lol

They still get a reaction every time which is what Kirkland NQ feeds off. It doesn’t matter that its beaten to death, as long as you react, he will keep playing games with you. Honestly the people to react to Kirkland NQ its like people having an embarrassing FB rant with randomers in full view of everyone

(33)(3)

City Pay War Enthusiast

I have no words . . . . .

(29)(3)

Lowpay

Cleary, W&C, and Dechert need to really up their game…

(34)(3)

Not my first rodeo

W&C is not the same model as the lean US shops, and Dechert isn’t even remotely in the same league.

Before all you young’ a got carried away with recent rises, you would know that only a small group of US firms paid way above the rest in London.

(3)(1)

Kirkland NQ

Akin DUMP

(8)(22)

Anon

Okay brokie

(2)(5)

Incredible - but things lower down the scale need to change.

The gulf between a lot of SC/MC closed a bit towards the backend / start of this year, but it is still extremely wide. I work at an international firm / US firm who likes to try to compete with the MC / true US players in terms of work. Almost every deal we’re opposite teams at Goodwin, STB, Kirkland, Gibson Dunn etc and as of recent, one deal with AG involved. I know this is the same for other teams at firms like Ashurst or Macfarlanes. To think you’re being paid almost 60k less (which doesn’t factor in bonuses etc) to act on the same deals is a bit depressing. Before you sound the support team alarm, when you actually work for the other firms, you realise the difference isn’t what it was 10-15 years ago.

Firms like mine really need to do something drastic, and break the pay scale so that the MC et al (ie the firms who like to compete with the top end) match and the scales become closer.

As it stands, it doesn’t make sense. Many of these firms, including mine, pay cravath in New York but a lower scale in London. Our London office, and my team in particular, has been extremely profitable over the last 2 years. So what gives?

(54)(3)

Hmm

HL by any chance?

(22)(1)

US associate

True that you’re working across these elite US shops regularly but the US associates would be on much more deals than a typical UK associate with nonexistent support. There is a reason why US firms pay more – as you’ll be worked much harder.

(18)(15)

Anon

Can we ditch this old trope. US firms are not paying higher salaries, at the same time as they punch out significantly higher RPL/PEP, because associates are working harder. They do it because they operate a fundamentally different business model to SC/MC firms. They have higher rates. They focus on PE client that pay bills in full. They don’t offer everyone discounts in order to win commoditised work. They’re not reliant on panels. They don’t have greyed top-of-lockstep partners going shooting every week. They don’t maintain practices in investment grade debt, Islamic finance, blockchain, employment, pensions, public law, bricks and motor real estate, planning, cyber security, etc. They don’t have offices in Portugal, Poland, Turkey, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and so on. These things don’t make US firms better, but they do make them hugely more profitable businesses.

(82)(4)

Truth teller

I also add that US firms hire brighter solicitors compared to UK firms. This is just a fact.

(15)(67)

🚨 AWOOGA KLAXON 🚨

Lmao ok fresher 😂

Not my first rodeo

US firms hire anyone with a pulse, come on.

You can reasonably make the argument that they hire more entrepreneurial/less institutionalised individuals, but brightness doesn’t really come into it.

US veteran

I concur. US firm associates are more intelligent (broadly speaking). The super star MC associates would have left for US firms before 4PQE, and the leftovers are atrocious (except for specialists areas like pensions or IP, in which US firms don’t operate for profitability reasons).

this isn't a state school debating club

Ah yes, all of those Kirkland lawyers cancelling their leave and reporting midnight finishes even in normal periods are all lying! They’re just not working that hard and are deluded. How do we know? Because a Legal Cheek commenter told us.

(5)(0)

Shampoo

They are paying out higher salaries and recording higher PEP because (a) many do not have all-equity partnerships, (b) their associates are worked harder on average, and (c) because of the practice area mix that you described.

Your point does not prove that associates there aren’t worked to the bone, it just proves that there is more than one factor that contributes to their high salaries. Practice area mix and being beasted are not mutually exclusive. If anything, the practice areas that US firms specialise in make it more likely that associates will get beasted.

I am honestly concerned by the fact that 20 users upvoted your analysis. With this level of critical thinking – let alone “commercial awareness”, whatever that means – they would be better off not applying to US firms for their training contract.

(1)(7)

Borat (Jr) 🇰🇿

🎵 Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan!

Is the best country in the world!

All the other countries are run by little girls! 🎶

(3)(2)

Anonymousse

I work at a US law firm and I am not even joking when I say that a very senior partner here goes shooting throughout the season with major clients, and this forms a big part of our overall business development strategy. So not sure you can say that at least.

(6)(1)

Lathamer

Only one top US firm fixes at a horrendous exchange rate of… 1.45… Latham…

That’s now c. £30k+ less at junior level than Akin Gump or any number of better-paying firms (difference greater when bonuses taken into account and exchanged at different fx). Firms that outright admit they don’t pay NY Cravath rates even have higher NQ salaries than us (our NQ base is under 150).

I know we are well-paid compared to the Uk firms but the difference is now outstanding compared to our “peers” and we are effectively bottom for pay out of all the US firms.

(46)(4)

Anon

That’s shocking to hear given their profits. Do partners not think their associates work hard enough to be paid similar? Latham not even paying Cravath money now

(16)(1)

Latham

There’s a lot of pressure on management to change this, especially given the now superior salaries on offer at other US firms. Whether they will, no one knows.

However, to any students applying for TCs – I would still pick Latham above any other US firm for training. The exchange rate issue isn’t a problem for you.

(27)(2)

Anon

That is crazy. That’s a trainees salary more than the NQ that the top magic circle are offering. Makes a lateral hire seem more and more juicy. Sanity or money is a hard choice

(9)(5)

Bob

How utterly ridiculous to spend that amount of money on people with 6 months experience in any given area/team

(33)(24)

Basic econ

Supply and demand

(38)(1)

Reposter

Read this on another website by a current AG associate:

“It’s true that we are paid handsomely however, hours are excruciating and the culture is ghastly. Many of us choose to stay because of the pay only, while sacrificing our soul and enduring drivels and unreasonable demands on a daily basis.

Underperformers get “managed out” at the earliest possible opportunity and the culture is very much “bill 15-18 hours a day unless you don’t want to stay on”. While I earn nearly £150k more as a 5+PQE (compared to my UK peers) I’m consistently at 180-210% utilisation and overworked. Not discouraging people to join this firm (or other elite US), but the truth is rarely exposed and people should be aware of it.”

(64)(3)

Two cents

This is consistent with my conversation with an AG associate at a friend’s birthday party a few years ago. The poor chap had to even work on the morning of his wedding and after the reception in order to finalise a deal. While the chap is undoubtedly a workaholic this incident does say a lot about the culture of the firm. If I were the partners I would take the associate off my deal so that he can enjoy his wedding.

I work at a modest national firm. To be honest with you, as a 8PQE I make materially less than £170k. It can be argued that when you’re paid substantially more than your peers you have to do the hours – the high pay simply gives insouciant partners a free ticket to abuse staff. The relentless demands can destroy one’s soul and career prematurely. Money shouldn’t be the one and only consideration – balance is equally important.

(65)(2)

Criminal Barrister

You can’t take it with you.

I’m overworked and underpaid, but at least I enjoy my work!

(1)(0)

Anon

I chose to go to an MC firm over AG last year when I had two TC offers. Seeing this is heartbreaking.

(11)(34)

Anon

You’d be on 200% utilisation and called back from holiday (even your honeymoon isn’t safe) at AG. At least at MC you get some resemblance of life outside of work, albeit not huge. I’ve heard AG culture is horrific (from legit sources, not comments on LC).

(56)(8)

Ironicymous

To us, you are a comment on LC.

(9)(1)

G

Someone check on K&E NQ.

(23)(4)

Anon

Out of curiosity, what would the culture be like at the likes of K&E and L&W compared to AG. Just as bad or slightly more forgiving?

(4)(1)

Peter

K&E and L&W are just as ghastly – 175-250% utilisation is commonplace. The main difference is that K&E/L&W have an impressive list of clients/work whereas AG is more of a mid market “churn and burn” shop.

(34)(3)

M

What is 100% utilisation at K&E/L&W? How many hours do you need to do to hit that?

(4)(0)

Alan

Quick prediction, whoever accepts this job, knowing the pay and expectations, will be back whining and crying when they have to work hard for their exorbitant pay. Typical young folk.

(11)(21)

Observer

Surely you can’t be doing 9 hours/day for this amount of money. Minimum number of associates + maximum number of hours = magnificent profits. From what I’ve gathered US firms across the board have dreadful culture and many burned out after 2-3 years and quit law for good.

(21)(2)

Anon

This is correct – 200% utilisation is the norm (so c. 14-16 hours a day minimum for billable only. Then you have to deal with the non-billable!

(18)(5)

US

No it isn’t. No one at any US firm is properly pulling 3500-4000 hours (which is what you get to assuming your numbers). 2000 +/- 200 hours either side is considered busy enough and what 90% of people at US shops (and most other City firms doing the same deals) bill.

(20)(4)

US 2 PQE

I billed 2975 hours last year. Most of my peers billed over 2800 hours. Shut up if you have no clue.

(6)(4)

US

Do you know how to read? Clearly you fall into the other 10% of my original post then and are still way short of the 3500 – 4000 hours implied by the comment I was responding to.

In any event, if you are billing that much then you are either inefficient, padding, stupid or all three. Average hours in my PE team (one of the US firms notorious for bad hours) were in the ballpark of what I posted.

The firms that apply bonus multipliers for insane hours generally kick in from 2200 hours and max out at 2400+ hours. This means that these hours are already considered above expectation/what most people bill. If as you say everyone is billing 2800 hours, then they would set the extra bonus threshold much higher.

I hope you got 2x the year end bonus – otherwise, you must be one of those people who think high billables makes you cool.

Oldskool

Working for these firms as an associate is a bit too “new money” for my liking.

(10)(12)

Only because it hasn’t been said yet…

“Run, Forrest, run!”

(2)(9)

Anonymous

Wow, that’s more than the Managing Partner’s salary at DWF.

(8)(1)

Lol

Loool I’m sure the managing partner gets paid more than that

(1)(9)

Anon

Prove it bro.

(8)(2)

Apple Smith

Honestly – the MP at DWF has a low salary (because it is DWF). He even takes a cut of all the trainees salaries, to make sure he has enough pocket money for taking out his insurance clients for fish and chips, hoping to get even more fixed fee work.

(1)(0)

Anon

There are people who went to Oxbridge/RG, came out with first class law degrees, amazing legal work experience and extracurriculars. But they work at firms many in the LC community deem subpar and in practice areas many consider uninspiring.

It’s important to understand that not everyone is in the business simply for the money. Many strong candidates choose to train at reputable firms with decent work/life balance and not necessarily where they can earn the most NQ salary. Many would like to enjoy some aspect of life outside of work.

AG and similar firms will pay you a lot of money in exchange for overworking you – this is the culture. Additionally, your weekends/holidays are not guaranteed free, you are basically on call on these days. Therefore, do your research and choose wisely where you want to train. The money is amazing, but there are many strings attached.

(34)(6)

ox

Just finished my law degree at Oxford and this is true. My entire college in freshers week was looking at MC or US, now less than half that are even considering them for work-life balance concerns. You can have all the money in the world but it doesn’t matter if you have no time to spend it.

(30)(3)

Numbers

1 AG NQ = 15 2-4 year call criminal defence barristers.

(15)(1)

CrimBo

Sad but true.

(1)(0)

Bed4dRow

That bad huh? Less than the minimum pupillage award

(0)(0)

oxbridge king

great but i would never train at this firm

(9)(4)

Curious fresher

Any elite US that pays top rates (>£150k NQ) and offers reasonable work life balance? How about those “under the radar” firms?

(2)(15)

Anon

Goodwin (from a very happy Goodwin mid-PQE associate!)

(2)(0)

Anyway

Akin Gump is a good firm; I know some people hate them, but I’ve had good experiences.

I know the numbers at NQ look very high, but I think most readers need to realise that BigLaw at a US firm is a short-term career lasting sometimes only a couple of years as an associate (well, until you’re then onto your next US firm, and then 2 years until you’re out entirely). The UK also has some hefty tax issues – you can put 40k into pension, with about 10k coming from employer contributions i.e. free money, but that only helps you up to 130k with salary sacrifice pension (after 100k to 125k you lose personal allowance thus tax at a 60% rate on the 25k – postponed from 100k to 130k if you sacrifice the 30k from 100-130k to pension, and after 150k you’re taxed at 45%)

Assuming you’ve pension mitigated, at the end of the year at K&E or Akin, you’ll take home about 20k more than at Clifford Chance at its current rate. I know that sounds like a lot, but in the context of overall take home, and the context of these salaries, and the fact you’re probably there only 2 years with longer term exhaustion complications, 40-45k more over 2 years isn’t going to significantly change your life i.e. repay your mortgage, allow you to retire early etc. It’s a lot to ordinary people not earning over 100k, for those who are earning 30-50k, to those people it would appear lifechanging.

In any event it’s not the 31k differential with Latham or 54k differential with the top magi circle when we talk about headline numbers. I feel as though quite a lot of associates, even those working at these firms, don’t properly run the numbers – they just think they’ll be on megadollar from the overall figure. Oft their spending goes up in view of this and the stress of the work, sometimes to do detriment of their overall savings. It wasn’t uncommon a couple of years ago to have senior associates at K&E having saved up “only” 200-300k (the upper end with generous savings) over the course of their 6-7 PQE careers spent at US firms (in part because of historically lower salaries). The real money is made at partnership, and overall over a long period of time. And such a few actually become partner these days with the ladder pulled up.

(18)(8)

Skeptical sister

HR spill ⚠️ ⚠️ ⚠️

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Here is a tip. Sign the contract, then opt back in to the 48 hour limit. And make it clear that if it is held against you you are going to sue them for a lot.

(18)(1)

Anonymously

Quick question. The NQ salary at my firm is X (big city firm). I’m 2 years PQE and getting paid £1,000 more than an NQ. Is this normal?

(2)(0)

S&M traineee

Damn, that’s some brutal salary bunching. Not entirely uncommon, unfortunately. A lot of firms advertise a high NQ salary to attract applicants, but they do not raise PQE salaries in line.

You really should name and shame the firm, the only way we’ll get improvements to PQE bunching is through transparency.

(14)(0)

SC Senior A

Had AG on the other side of a deal recently and A) they were fucking terrible and left far too junior an associate doing the job B) constantly online for a deal that didn’t really require it at most points and C) massively under resourced.

2PQE was pumping out some board minutes at 2am and was doing stuff I’d be giving to a paralegal rather than even a trainee.

Paid decently more than me but no life to speak of and doing absolutely shit work.

(22)(2)

Human rights advocate

When you hafta work such long hours you pretty much don’t even have time for sex. 15 hours/day is simply unsustainable, even though nearly everyone who works at an elite US says similar things. Looks like US firms just have to hire more people to avoid modern slavery!

(9)(3)

Pumpendump

Everyone can find 45 seconds for sex.

(7)(0)

Some perspective - 6 PQE

Seriously I moved from a MC to US firm and I do not feel that the hours are worst… I billed 2.1k last year in MC (and 2.05k the year before, pulling consistently 1850/1900 the five years before the Covid pandemic). So while I now have to be more available in my new firm (checking emails over weekend or Hollidays) at some point you have professional responsibility vis a vis your client and if you like your job you will work these type of hours on high profile deal, whether you are in MC or US shop… we are in a service industry and we need to please the clients, it’s more the clients that dictate the hours than the firm…

(18)(4)

S&M traineee

Are you in a transactional department? I’ve heard that there is really little difference in hours worked in those departments between US and MC firms (with US firms expecting you to be more available during Holidays).

I think a lot of the work-life confusion comes from the fact that the MC offers a range of departments, incuding stuff like Tax, Real estate, IP, Litigation that has less intense working hours than transactional (which some of the top US shops exclusively do)

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Any thoughts on how Fried Frank’s team is in London, while they pay almost at same rates as AG, from my experience (working opposite them [M&A team] on a deal recently) they were reasonably well staffed and did not appear to be working for crazy long hours.

(0)(0)

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