What newly qualified lawyers at top law firms earn per hour

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By Rhys Duncan on

24

We worked it out


It will come as no surprise that junior lawyers, and particularly those at elite law firms in the City of London, can earn seriously big money — the trade off being working hours that range from reasonable to very long indeed.

Have you ever wondered what these sizeable salaries would look like when adjusted for the amount of time the junior lawyers work? Well, wonder no more.

Legal Cheek has combined its exclusive working hours research with its comprehensive rundown of newly qualified (NQ) lawyer salaries to give an estimate of what fresh-faced solicitors earn per hour.

Splitting the firms into six categories, US firms in London, Magic Circle, Silver Circle, international, boutique, and national, here are the average hourly earnings figures for NQs in the UK:

US firms in London

Average NQ salary: £154,161
Average daily working hours: 11 hours 13 minutes
Average earnings per hour: £60.74

This group work the longest hours of any NQs. But the salaries are so high that they still bag the average earnings per hour top spot.

Magic Circle

Average NQ salary: £125,000
Average daily working hours: 10 hours 59 minutes
Average earnings per hour: £50.80

The £125,000 NQ salary now paid by the five Magic Circle firms is pretty amazing. But with the average day here being only 14 minutes shorter than at US outfits, the average earnings per hour come in nearly a tenner lower.

Silver Circle

Average NQ salary: £113,000
Average daily working hours: 10 hours 29 minutes
Average earnings per hour: £47.79

Slightly lower (but still pretty great) salaries and slightly gentler (but still pretty long) hours bring the five Silver Circle firms in just below their magical rivals.

International

Average NQ salary: £95,145
Average daily working hours: 9 hours 57 minutes
Average earnings per hour: £42.26

It’s worth noting that this category is quite large, containing over 30 firms. At the top end, the big global megafirms created by UK-US mergers are in Magic and Silver Circle territory when it comes to earnings per hour, with high salaries and chunky hours. Meanwhile the more national of the international firms came in a fair bit lower, with less generous pay and better work/life balance. Taken as a whole the group offered NQs average earnings per hour of over £40.

Boutique

Average NQ salary: £72,400
Average daily working hours: 9 hours 21 minutes
Average earnings per hour: £34.22

£34.22 per hour is not to be sniffed at, but it’s nearly half what some US firms pay per hour. The interesting work in fields like private client, media and sports law make up for the shortfall.

National

Average NQ salary: £68,600
Average daily working hours: 9 hours 21 minutes
Average earnings per hour: £32.50

It helps that the majority of roles in national firms are outside the capital. Avoiding the hellish housing market is surely worth lower average earnings per hour.


How did we get here? Well, we’ve taken the number of days in 2023 (365), removed weekends and bank holidays, factored in the individual firms’ holiday allowances, and split each outfit’s NQ salary across the remaining days. Then, taking the average working hours of the 2,000+ junior lawyers we surveyed, we’ve divided up those daily wages into hour figures.

Please bear in mind that the hourly earnings figures are just a rough guide. Our working hours research is the most detailed of its kind, and has been covered by the Financial Times and The Times among other leading publications, but corporate lawyers’ hours fluctuate wildly and our figures are only averages. The data also does not include bonuses or additional perks offered, and concerns only NQ hours and wages.

Everything you need to know about the 100 leading law firms offering training contracts in the UK — The Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2024

24 Comments

Kirkland NQ

What I earn in an hour could bankrupt most nation states.

Anonymous

I’ve often wondered whether ‘Kirkland NQ’ is a moniker passed down the generations of Kirkland trainee cohorts. Or whether it’s just the same person (who by now is most likely extremely senior) that still somehow finds time and is extremely willing to comment on Legal Cheek articles. Most likely by asking their sec to slot daily 15 minute “research” holds in their diary.

Either way, the consistency of commenting over the years is striking.

princessbride

The Dread Pirate Kirkland NQ.

Anonymous

🥱🥱 – (Brick Court Junior Tenant)

Jr Jr

Please displace Kirkland NQ

statistician

I’m not sure banding ‘US firms in London’ was appropriate when the spectrum includes Milbank and Orrick. I’m sure the hours are grim at both, but I struggle to believe they’re similar.

Until I get my Statisfaction

At least Orrick NQ pay is still higher than all the MC firms.
The “international” bracket is so wide it contains both Hogan Lovells which is easily MC size and Simmons & Simmons which isn’t even SC size so, it makes even less sense to take an average there.

A partner

“Removed weekends and bank holidays, factored in holiday allowances”

Hahahahahahahaha*breathes*hahahahahahahahaha

Anyway, don’t you dare compare this to your charge out rate, get back to that DD report serfs.

Anon

Yep the US firm headline figure is better divided by most days in the year

Worth the extra fiver?

The reality after tax is a completely different picture.

Assuming 225 working days (approx. 25 days’ holiday), and the earner pays Plan 2 student finance and 3% pension contribution, take home* is as below.

US firms in London

Average NQ salary: £154,161
Average annual take home: £79,845.23
Average daily working hours: 11 hours 13 minutes
Average take home earnings per hour: £31.64

Magic Circle

Average NQ salary: £125,000
Average annual take home: £67,237.04
Average daily working hours: 10 hours 59 minutes
Average take home earnings per hour: £27.21

Silver Circle

Average NQ salary: £113,000
Average annual take home: £63,757.04
Average daily working hours: 10 hours 29 minutes
Average take home earnings per hour: £27.03

International

Average NQ salary: £95,145
Average annual take home: £57,344.96
Average daily working hours: 9 hours 57 minutes
Average take home earnings per hour: £25.61

Boutique

Average NQ salary: £72,400
Average annual take home: £46,192.86
Average daily working hours: 9 hours 21 minutes
Average take home earnings per hour: £21.96

National

Average NQ salary: £68,600
Average annual take home: £44,336.86
Average daily working hours: 9 hours 21 minutes
Average take home earnings per hour: £21.08

*take home calculated using online salary calculator

Anon

Thanks for this, we need more data produced net rather than gross because that’s what you actually get in your pocket at the end of the day. Most publications don’t want to do the analysis and it is subject to variable factors like pension contributions , student loan status and taxable benefits.

lol

Would you like Legal Cheek to do the individual tax analysis for every reader? Sounds reasonable.

Bazza

Now do Chambers!

Chezza

What would be the point? The only real comparison point is pupillage grants, which only last a year, and after tenancy everyone makes wildly different money even with the same experience level. Can’t really make a comparison

Bazza

But you could compare similar levels of calls’ hourly rates

G

This is really useful – thanks

Just saying

Everyone’s take home will be slightly different (some don’t have student loans for example) so not really a fair analysis.

V

Unless you’re in an advisory team, you’re most likely getting shafted at a MC firm.

Anonymouse

When considering what your time is really worth to you you need to bear in mind the law of diminishing returns.

At 5PM you might be happy to sell your time for £30. What about 8PM? 9PM?

I don’t care about being home in time for Countdown. I care very much about being home in time to make dinner with my partner, since the alternative is a lonely (and expensive) takeaway at my desk. That’s time I’d only sell (and sell consistently) at a higher price than most firms are realistically going to offer.

Anon

It feels like a pretty fundamental flaw to have removed weekends from these calculations – I’m sure your average US / MC NQ will tell you they work a fair deal of them in the average year! Sort of a meaningless comparison without…

Junior Civil Barrister

Next time my solicitor friends ask me my hourly rate (£250) and quickly reply that theirs is £XXX (i.e. what the firm bills the client) I will be sure to direct them to this article.

Help!

Great info! Can you please do it for barristers? Would be so helpful!

crimeboy

With pleasure…Legal Aid Crime Counsel – £105 for a standard appearance. Minus travel; minus chambers expenses/rent; minus tax = £Less Than Zero

But you’ll find all those crime barristers saying how crap it is at commercial law firms…

Dave

It would make more sense to divide salary by billable and non billable work done per year plus hours sitting around in the office as you can’t go home

That way weekends and holiday work are properly accounted for

And the bit about when work is done is quite key to

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