Top barristers’ chambers raises pupillage award by over 40% to £100,000

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Exclusive: Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers becomes first set to guarantee new graduates six figures in their first year

A leading tax chambers in London has become the first set to offer a guaranteed six-figure award to graduates fresh out of law school.

Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers — made up of just 12 members — has boosted baby barrister pay to £100,000, equating to a hefty rise of £30,000 (or 43%) from £70,000. The set is looking to offer up to two pupillages next year, with an advanced drawdown option of £25,000 to cover bar course fees.

It’s actually not uncommon for pupils at leading commercial chambers to earn north of £100k, with a pupillage award of £75,000 or thereabouts frequently topped up by second six earnings. We are told these earnings can be in excess of £30,000, but there is no guarantee that rookies will make this amount.

By contrast, Gray’s Inn Tax runs a ‘non-practicing second-six’, which means pupils do not have the option to top up their award with additional earnings during their second six months of training.

The 2021 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

The set’s £100,000 award far exceeds new starter pay for trainee solicitors at law firms. As detailed in The Legal Cheek Firms Most List, the highest paying law firms in London for trainees are US duo Davis Polk and Weil Gotshal & Manges, which offer first years £60,000. This amount soars to around £160,000 once the rookies have qualified, but that process takes two years.

The Legal Cheek Chambers Most List 2022 shows a raft of sets offer the top £75k rate (excluding second six earnings), including 3 Verulam Buildings, Blackstone Chambers, Brick Court Chambers, Essex Court Chambers, Fountain Court Chambers and Monckton Chambers.

The picture is of course very different for legal aid-funded sets, where many pupil and junior barristers struggle to earn the minimum wage.

If you are interested in finding out more about life as a barrister and meeting pupils and tenants from sets across the country, including Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers, come along to our Virtual Pupillage Fair on Saturday 8 October 2022. Apply now.

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Whilst intrinsically difficult to ascertain without a large enough sample of junior barristers disclosing to LC their genuine earnings, I would be interested to know roughly how junior commercial barristers’ (1-3 years call) earnings compare to an NQ-3PQE solicitor at a top-paying City firm.

I’d imagine it’s likely on par, if not in excess of what City solicitors earn but by quite how much I am curious.



As a junior barrister at a top commercial set with with friends across magic circle law firms / other top barrister sets, I’d say a rule of thumb would be approximately double for the barristers.


Junior B

I think this used to be true, but once you take bonuses at MC / higher bases at US into account then this ship has now sailed. Barristers also have to pay for insurance, chambers fees etc. No employer pension contribution etc etc.



So a 27 year old at a top set is making 350k? Damn.



that sounds like a bit much but easily £200k+. Also, barristers tend to be slightly older on average so 27 might be a bit of a reach (save some exceptions)



If it helps, I’m 28 and at a commercial set earning around £450k before tax and chambers expenses.


I would agree – one year post pupillage and out-earning all my solicitor friends at American and MC firms


Kirkland NQ

Not true. Any barrister earning twice my salary would leave no money left in the northern hemisphere for anyone else.



It’s a basically irrelevant comparison. 99% of the people who go on to become very successful City solicitors wouldn’t have a hope in hell of being considered at a top chambers, and 99% of the people with a serious chance of getting pupillage at a top chambers wouldn’t even consider becoming a solicitor.


common sense

Or… people would simply rather be a solicitor instead of a barrister and vice versa? Not everything is about money, the two jobs are very different



Making double the top rates in the City? So a 2 year qualified barrister is making around £400k (under double a 2PQE at a US firm including bonus)?



Probably more accurate to say double magic circle sols (including bonus) not American firms’ sols, but after chambers’ fees insurance etc. So a 2 year qualified barrister at a top set might make earnings of around £400k giving a salary equivalent of £300k – £350k. Also, given a typical salary quote for a 2PQE sol would be what they earn over their third year of practice, I’ve given the figures for what a 2 year qualified barrister could get between two and three years after finishing pupillage. Also, in the context of this article, worth remembering tax barristers are famously often the best paid. To all the other junior barristers reading this – give me a thumbs up if if you ball-park agree, it’s hard to know how typical your own set is!


Legal aid barrister currently on strike




Actually really feel for you. Would have been my preferred route if pay was not so bad. Keep up the fight pal.



It is is entirely crazy, because the first six award is also *tax free*, so this translates to more like £110k for a solicitor.



also, as a barrister, you can lower your tax bill with expenses – new laptops, pension contributions etc. Solicitors don’t have much flexibility when it comes to income tax.



I’m starting pupillage at a good (but not excellent) commercial chancery set in London. How much could I expect to make in my first year of practice?



For me it was fairly low (£68k) in the first tax year post pupillage, but rose to £184k in the second. This is after chambers expenses etc. I don’t do much led work so that probably contributed to my earnings not being that high while building my practice. Year 3 may be slightly lower than year 2 though because obviously, my chambers contributions are much higher now.



You do realise that solicitors can make additional voluntary contributions to their pension, right?

The amount you’ll make back from HMRC by expensing your laptop and books and train tickets is negligible compared to what you claim you earn. And you have two insurance policies to pay for on top of those that are outright losses, not tax efficiencies.



Anonn’s comment is a load of rubbish – as well as being able to increase their pension contributions, employed solicitors can also “lower their tax bill with expenses” if they choose to report their income tax via self-assessment (rather than just relying on their employer to deduct income tax via PAYE).



Incorrect. The test for employment deductions includes the word “necessarily” incurred in the course of the employment, but the test for self employment deductions does not.

US firm associate

So the pupillage award includes money you can draw down to pay for your studies. By comparison, you’d have to include the figures law firms spend on the GDL/LPC and maintenance. But from speaking to a couple of barrister friends, many of them seem to get scholarships from the inns of court so they don’t need to draw down that portion of the pupillage award while studying. Can any barristers confirm?

And, as asked above, what are we talking about for barrister pay 1-3 years after tenancy accounting for chambers’ expenses. Again, from conversations with barristers, it seems around 20% of their revenue is given to the chambers.

By comparison, I’m 2PQE at a US firm and will get just short of £200k this year (including bonus). I expect the barristers will make more but then they have firsts and academic awards coming out of their ears!


Elite mate

Exactly, the barriers to entry are crazily high…



Yep you can end up at the likes of Kirkland having gone to a very average university and scraped a 2.1 and with comparatively low intelligence assuming you join a process driven transactional practice where the key requirement is simply putting in crazy hours. Barristers at top commercial sets will almost certainly have graduated top of their year at oxbridge, top of their year in the BCL, published in several legal journals etc. The chances of getting in are minuscule compared to a US firm and the pay is commensurate. The hours and leave will be much better although when engaged the brainpower needed will be significantly more than what you need to use as a solicitor.


Kirkland NQ

Imagine going through all that, and achieving so much so young and all you have to cling to later is that you “engage brainpower” more. Something for me to regret when I’m driving past you waiting at the bus stop in my Lambo.



Congrats – enjoy the 100k+



Lol, but the way you’ll need to have discovered a new a law or something crazy or traveled to every country volunteering, plus firsts across the board at top uni’s just to get in…and don’t even get me started on the lack of diversity

I’m cool at my US firm lol


Oxbridge 2:1 Grad

Can confirm. Both commercial/chancery barristers from my college cohort had multiple subject prizes, worked part-time as a law tutor/lecturer at the university and wrote several articles in reputable journals (e.g. commonwealth journal). Rightly so, as there are very few pupillages going round, especially if you want to join a commercial/chancery set, so it’s much, much harder than getting a Kirkland TC lol.

I would say gaining a pupillage at, say, One Essex Court is similar in difficulty to becoming a premier league footballer!


Random passer-by

Plus now competition appears to be stiffer with an influx of Aussies/Kiwis/Indians/Hong Kongers (is that the term) that are qualified in their countries with years of experience in their country and London, and have smashed the BCL, and English solicitors that have transferred to the bar. Some of the CVs you see for these commercial pupils are really incredible. However it is a different skillset as the level of social awkwardness, sensitivity, lack of empathy and elitism is off the charts. I would say, based on interactions, the first three improve significantly with age and experience.


Footballer of Counsel

At the end of the day you have be a top, top barrister to make it these days, and you have to give 110% in every case. You also can’t let your head go down and let the clients get on your back – take one case at a time as sometimes even when you’re reading a judgement and you’re two Justices down it can be the most dangerous score line and the next Judge will decide it.

Lots of commenters are talking about the foreign influx but can they do it on a cold windy night at Stoke County Court?



Ones got remember barrister is a self-employed so it’s unlikely to be all smooth sailing



Yes, but there is so much work at the commercial/commercial chancery bar that it would be difficult not to hit 6 figs in first year of practice (even at an average London set).


V Competent

Billing 6 figures and being paid 6 figures are two different ball-games…



How strange. According to National Statistics across the nation the average barrister earns £40,000 and the average solicitor £42,000. Even the average judge earned only £50,000 in a year.

The National Statistics figures are supplied by employers and tax records so either there is massive lying and tax evasion by lawyers or the legal press is reporting press releases ie drivel.

Given that lawyers are regarded at the bottom of 1000 occupations by BBC Radio 4 Today listeners in a poll where 60,000 listeners (probably the most intelligent and educated cohort in the country) ranked lawyers alongside used car dealers, estate agents and drugs dealers, it looks like most lawyers are deluded.

Maybe the fact that the highest level of drug use in the sewage system is around the Inns of Court maybe too many are off their heads due to self medicating hating the self loathing from the deceit and lies daily told in courts?

Lawyers are not a happy bunch as all the psychological studies show and few get beyond a year or so practicing before self loathing comes to the fore in most lawyers minds.

Most realise there are jobs one could have chosen where you earn far more and aren’t compromising and losing one’s moral compass working in the ditch



The average salaries take into account the earnings of regional and criminal counsel, which would of course be much lower than what London barristers at a good commercial/commercial chancery set would earn.


Which firm?

2pqe at which firm?


Future Trainee Solicitor

How do barristers’ earnings at more senior levels compare to pay for solicitors? My impression is that whereas barristers earn more in the first years of practice, solicitors at are likely to earn more than senior juniors/QCs if they become partners at top (US) firms.



True but the chances of becoming equity partner at a top US firm are very small and constantly being diluted by the likes of salaried partners, counsel etc



Sounds juicy. But I can’t stand barristers, so no.


Numbers, yo

How many pupils earning this aren’t going to be White public school-educated men?


Realest Realist

A lot of White public school-educated women these days, and the daughters of Judges and Partners in firms. However no one says anything as apparently they are “diverse” and have had it so hard because the girls at Cheltenham Ladies College, North London Collegiate and Badminton have had it very tough in life in this patriarchy.


Here Yugo

By reference to the population as a whole and data collected over recent years:

1) Women are significantly more likely to obtain a pupillage than men and are over-represented by reference to the female/male population ratio.
2) Ethnic minorities obtain around 17% of pupillages, and constitute about 13% of the population.
3) The powers that be do not collect private/state school data because they don’t care about that, it is the box ticking on gender and ethnicity that matters.



Sounds juicy but could care less about the actual law, so no.


*Could not care less

Your inability to grasp basic comprehension would also prevent you from going to the bar.



All well and good but can imagine being a barrister is much more stressful than a city lawyer and that’s saying something lol.

Also I very much doubt the rises in pay as your career progresses matches that of Cravath scale US firms…

But hey money isn’t everything


Oxbridge 2:1 Grad

I agree – I think the stress of knowing that how well you present yourself in court (up against some of the brightest legal minds of our generation) determines your client’s outcome would have been too much for me, especially as someone who dislikes public speaking!

I would say if you are half decent as a commercial/chancery/tax barrister the progression in pay is not as pre-determined as Cravath scale but still enormous (and potentially astronomical). Obviously, this is more dependent on actual performance in court and one’s reputation, rather than simply what PQE you are!



What’s the salary of an associate in the Dubai office of a US firm for 1.5 pqe?



DLA 2pqe circa. £9.5k per month (depending on conversion from UAED)



I said US firm for a reason lol



Pupillage awards are around 50-75k in the main. Covers the BPTC year as well. Almost all, if not all, successful pupils at good sets have a full or almost full ride for BPTC fees through various scholarship awards. Thus it’s not a huge award, but is tax free but for the second six. Usually a set will give you 50k of a 75k award before hand, then give you 25k in the second six with 5k going to HMRC. I’m not sure why they bother with the pretense that they’re not avoiding tax and not just pay a penny piece in the second six, but it’s an obvious fudge anyhow.

This award in the scheme of things is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s about 20k more net by the time you complete pupillage as opposed to a TC, but people get that trainees aren’t compensated that well in relation to associates, and it takes longer to qualify.

Essex Court sets guaranteed earnings at 125k for the first year, and notes that many of its tenants will earn in excess of that. Yes, but not massively in excess. And then you’ve got to estimate c.30-40% of the gross going on chambers’ rent, clerk fees, books, travel, all your own necessary IT equipment.

So if you earnt 150k in your first year, with 35% of costs, you’ll make about 97k pre-tax. The other thing is you don’t get a workplace pension. In practice that means you also lose c.10k a year in free money from employer contributions. Even if you earnt 70% after costs and expenses of 200k, that’s 140k.

But it depends a lot on the set and the barrister. Often sets have sliding costs scales for higher earners. Say you worked 2300 hours for the year (including BD, marketing, non billables), but you only managed to bill under some pressure 1600. Even at a top commercial set, not all of that will be recoverable and some of it will be accrued earnings you won’t get paid for a year(s). Suppose you recover 1400 hours at 250 an hour, that’s 350k, suppose you get 65% of that before tax, that’s 230k.

But that’s a junior at a top set killing themselves. Equally they may have a quiet year and earn a lot less, or a busy year when their rate is higher and earn a lot more.

Then you have to take into account tax, pension, the 45% rate, etc. The gross difference between tax at a US law firm in London and a barrister is fairly minimal. On average, sure quite a lot of those at the commercial sets will be earning a bit more gross. But about 20-40k more pre-tax at a 45% tax rate without a pension or e’er contributions so marginal difference really. The gross gross sum as a junior may well be around nearly double before expenses and rent, but that’s a false comparison.

The takehome is somewhat comparable on average, but also completely depends…as do the hours. Many are able to disappear for a couple of months of the year if everything is quiet. You can’t really do that in BigLaw.

Partner to senior barrister pay also depends massively. A partner at Simmons makes something like 200k. Equity make a chunk more. But bottom of it is not much much higher. Slaughters is 1 mill+ straight up. US firms might start on 450 odd for salaried partner and then 1+ mill thereafter at equity. Someone at one set might be earning a lot more or less than someone at a comparable, or even much more or less versus someone next door to them in the same chambers.


Q (but not that Q)

I’d answer this except I am now on holiday until September. Do the US firms give you all of August off too?


What a sad little life, Jane.

Enjoy the money. Hope it makes you very happy.



They can pay for all the private therapy their kids will need for never having their parent around.

So yes, I’m sure it is a comfort.


Miss Steak

You seem to be confusing barristers with senior associates and junior partners in law firms. Barristers get 3 months off a year, work from home 90% of the time if they want to, and see their kids.



You ever seen Temple on a Saturday? Commercial barristers most definitely don’t work from home 90% of the time



Yes they do.

"Barristers see their kids" 😂

This is comical. I imagine that you’ve never met a commercial barrister in their thirties or forties. The ones that are still in the game are very much working weekends and depend as much on the demands of the client and court as solicitors. They are very much not senior enough to be picky about case or relax about BD/building their practice. Don’t forget that a lot of them started pupillage late and are still considered to be “junior” juniors.

I’m guessing that you’ve never met the kids of these barristers either… if they’re lucky, they’ve been taken care of by a SAHM. If unlucky, shipped off to boarding school or outsourced to a nanny.

Honestly I’m so amazed that someone could say that “[commercial] barristers see their kids” with a straight face… it’s just so detached from reality that I can’t even begin to fathom just how naively inexperienced and optimistic the person who wrote this must be. Just astounding.


Miss Steak

Thanks for telling me I’m “comical”, that I’ve “never met a commercial barrister in their thirties or forties”, and that I am “so detached from reality” and “naively inexperienced”. Can I use you as a the Legal 500 referee?

I’m a commercial barrister. Your post seems to say more about you and your prejudices than anything else. Your description does not reflect anything about how I work, my practice or life at the bar as I know it. You can make £500k after expenses and still have a jolly nice life. Yes, I’m very lucky and I do appreciate that.

There is a vocal minority of neurotic overworkers in the profession, and your description might fit how they live. But, in my experience at least, that is the minority of the members of chambers in the age groups to which you refer and no-one has to live and work that way. Working weekends or to midnight on weekdays regularly to make another £100k at the end of the year is not worth it as far as I am concerned.

Hello again 😬

“Vocal minority”

I am going to assume that you’re not a troll, even though saying things like “barristers get 3 months off every year” and the fact that you’re arguing on Legal Cheek make it difficult for more difficult for me to believe you…

Have you seen just how many stressed out and single barristers are around you?

Have you not thought that all of the talk of nannies and boarding schools, women not having kids until close to or after the age of 40, and endless divorces among the 50-something male crowd, may be indicative of deeper issues relating to work life balance, personal relationships and family life?

Do you also not see the kind of behaviour that got students “in” to the upper echelons of the profession being reflected in how they live their professional lives? (neuroticism, not knowing how to relax, several “side commitments” like tutoring or doing research, constant BD/profile building at conferences and law firms, to name a few)

I am very impressed by your ability to earn £500,000 in a year but I assume that your working life is nowhere near as care free and relaxed as you may like to pretend it is. Or maybe you’ve managed to unlock the secrets that others in your profession lack and should be sharing those more widely! Who knows.

An actual lawyer

People should understand that the following are all very different jobs, with very different entry requirements and earnings:

1. Commercial / Chancery bar (very high entry requirements, very high pay)
2. US / city firm solicitors (high entry requirements, high pay)
3. Public interest firms (middling-low pay, middling entry requirements)
4. Criminal bar (low pay, low entry requirements…particularly in the regions)


Anon; a Mouse

I earn over £100K doing crime, but then I am at a very very good set!



On another note do any trainee or associate insiders of city firms know of any rumours if there firm is gonna rise their NQ rates soon 👀



There was a time when earning 100k was out of reach, now it’s like the norm..


Afraid of Muscovites

Relocated attorneys from Moscow have started to arrive to the London offices of MC/US firms. What do you think if they are real competitors for the Londoners? Or may they replace all NQ-escapees from LL or A&O to the top tier US firms for additional c.20-40k?






I’m 10 years call at a London public law set. I don’t overstretch myself, but work hard. I gross c. £450,000, and my take home after tax and expenses is roughly half of that. I’m pretty content. Not bad for interesting work and lots of random days off.


STB Partner

I make £600k as a salaried partner STB with unlimited potential. Most importantly I delegate 90% of my work to hardworking associates.


Lucky barrister

Pretty good STB Partner

I’m 10 years’ call as a barrister billing £500k (albeit knock off £50k for rent). I sit in my underwear at home most days dispensing my views on the law to grateful clients. I also draft a document and hit send. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with employees or HR. I’m gone for August (tomorrow), off for 2 weeks at Xmas and take 2 weeks off a Easter.

Kids, if you want a work life balance, come to the Bar. Also, if you get some good clients it can be very fun and rewarding. If you are an extrovert, court work can be exciting.


tired bill

In what world are you billing enough to maintain that kind of salary while also taking a full two months off every year?

Honestly the amount of baloney/fresher tier nonsense on here is quite amusing at times. I suspect it’s the same rejects posting under different names.


Lucky barrister

@tired bill.

Not a fresher. There are some corners of the Bar that do very well. I just happen to be in one. If I have 10 pleadings/advice on my desk at any one time anywhere between £2- 4000 per instruction. If they take 1 to 2 days to do then not difficult to bill that, epecially when you through in a week trial every two months or so.


I take two weeks at Christmas, half terms, Easter fortnight and August off and earn that without working silly hours the rest of the time. The fact that Tired Bill calls it a “salary” indicates he is the ignorant one.


May I ask which area(s) of law you specialise in?


Inhouse pleb

Sounds great, but your credentials must be impeccable. Nothing comes easy in life, and to have such an interesting and well paying job you’ve worked very hard. Kudos to you.


E Musk

Not as much as you earn in tech, plus you there you don’t have to work with douchebags all day


Civil Junior Barrister (5 years' Call)

People often think it’s a toss up between the Criminal and Commercial Bar in terms of earnings, but the reality is that you can work at a decent civil set, perhaps doing a particular specialism, and still make a decent whack.

I would suggest my take home is roughly on par with MC/SC firms to do interesting work (or, at the very least, not mind numbingly dull work) with more sociable hours during the week except when in the middle of a lengthy trial (albeit more unpredictable weekend working) and probably triple the amount of holiday as an employee.

Plus I have no psychotic partner making my life a misery and I get parachuted into cases to do a specific task then airlifted out again when the grunt work resumes or the case concludes.

There’s plenty to complain about, but ultimately it is a damn good deal.


Saul Goodman QC

Exactly, there are plenty of areas between the criminal and commercial ends of the spectrum of the Bar.
You say your earnings are on-par with MC, what does that look like at say 8, 10, 12 years?

How about silk?

Does it still increase and increase with level of call, as oppose to capping out at 8PQE like MC?


Private practice advocate

An one man band always has earning ceilings – you can make about the same but when your peers make partnership, you my friend is the loser.



Though the barristers bought properties 10 years earlier and have a few million extra in capital by the time their solicitor peers hit equity, let alone decent equity.


Advocacy advocate

This is true, but only a small proportion of associates make partner, much as how a small proportion of barristers take Silk.

As a matter of probability, my friend, you will remain a senior associate.


Realist (original)

The barristers we are talking about, who earn the very large salaries in prestigious commercial, chancery and public law sets, all become QCs pretty much, with the odd exception that laterals out into firms and become partners. As someone above said, these are like premier league footballers, and we (solicitors) pay for the brainpower and skill not for hours spent.


Provincial barrister

The Bar Council’s Barristers’ Working Lives 2021 contains some good data on barristers’ turnover and working hours. See figures 2.4 and 5.1:

£250k+ is achievable in Business & Property work within 5 years without working more than 50-60 hours a week.



Yeah,but the bad news you’ll actually have to be a barrister



Sorry if I have read this incorrectly, but I don’t think that the data is that positive?

For “commercial” barristers, close to 60 per cent of the respondents have 18+ years of call.

Only 45 per cent of respondents report making more than £240,000 gross, which translates to around £200,000 after expenses. This is in spite of the data presumably including very senior and experienced juniors as well as QCs.

I am sure that a considerable number of the sub £240,000-earning barristers are based outside of London or are at a point in their career where they are more focused on quality of life or other pursuits than maximising their billings.

But at the same time I can’t help but wonder if the numbers are a bit disappointing for commercial barristers as a whole. You can make £180,000 or £190,000 – and this figure excludes various office perks, healthcare premium cover and and a big pension contribution – at a Magic Circle firm as a 6PQE in your late twenties or very early thirties. You wouldn’t need to get beasted to get to that number either, the base would be around £160,000 or £170,000 following the recent pay increases and the bonus would be between 10 and 20%. The teams getting beasted would earn more.

I would have been interested to see how many commercial barristers exceed the £500,000 threshold given that this is much harder to match for solicitors without partnership. Commercial solicitors are limited in a way – they can either make salaried and then equity partner, which would take them above most commercial barristers’ earnings, or they can remain stuck at the £200,000 mark (at least outside of US firms) while their counterparts at the Bar are making double that for similar hours. There is a chasm of sorts.

However it does appear that work life balance is fairly favourable for commercial barristers so at least there’s that. Not to be sniffed at for those looking to stick to private practice long term. Most commercial solicitors tap out of P.P. after a few years.


Provincial barrister

All good points. Turnover is very different to a salary. But barristers also keep a much larger proportion of their hourly rate than employed solicitors: say 75-80% before tax.

I am speaking from experience as a provincial barrister. If your hourly rate is £225, to make £250k you ‘only’ need to bill 5 hours of work a day 5 days a week for 45 weeks a year. I put ‘only’ in inverted commas because barristers are generally on fixed fees and cannot bill for emails and phone calls etc.

Senior business & property specialists would be expecting to make a lot more than £250k.


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