Freshfields sets down Magic Circle salary marker as it ups NQ lawyer pay 20% to £150k

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By Thomas Connelly on


Is there another pay war on the horizon?

Freshfields has jumped to the top of Magic Circle pay table with a new and improved rate of £150,000 for its newly qualified lawyers.

The Anglo-German giant confirmed today that NQ salaries increased from £125,000 to £150,000 on May 1. That’s an uplift of £25,000 or 20%.

The Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2024 shows its MC rivals — A&O Shearman, Clifford Chance, Linklaters and Slaughter and May — all dish out £125,000.

The 2024 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Freshfields’ trainees have also been handed sizeable increases. First year salaries have moved from £50,000 to £56,000, while those a year ahead will now earn £61,000, up from £55,000. Once again, these new figures are significantly higher than those currently offered by its Magic Circle rivals; £50,000 in year one, rising to £55,000 in year two.

Mark Sansom, London managing partner, commented:

“We’re committed to embedding a culture that supports our people to deliver their best, knowing their contribution is valued and rewarded. Being part of Freshfields means working alongside the best lawyers in the market and being fairly recognised for excellent client service on the most complex and high-profile legal work. This move follows a year of strong growth for the London business, thanks to the dedication of all our people. It also reflects our confidence in the firm’s continued market leadership across all our London practices, further boosted by the success of the material investments in the US and other markets.”

Will its MC rivals follow? Let us know what you think in the comments below.



Let’s go!

Oh dear

What is FF? You’d know, if you were a trainee let alone NQ, that none ever refers to us as “FF”


Fried Frank NQ celebrating his peers’ success in the market?


We are in the same building tbf


I was thinking Fieldfisher? Lord knows their NQs will be desperately hoping for another British firm salary war to drive up the mid tier firms to finally hit the £100k range.

You’re a Clown

Laughable to say “us” as if you’re anything more than a cog in a machine. Don’t forget that you are replaceable in the drip of a hat.


Anyone know the new rates at 1, 2, 3 PQE etc? Assume horrific bunching?

Big dog

No bunching. FBD is the place to be.

US Lawyer

Please provide further details. What are the actual figures?


Another potential pay war? let’s bring it 😉😏

FBD associate

FBD leading the way again…


Other MC will deffo follow (S&M will be last most probs)


Will they though? FBD is no doubt bolstered by its recent success in breaking into the US, but I’m not sure the other MC (and especially Linklaters) have deep enough pockets to follow.


A&O and CC both have much bigger presences in the US than FDB and they have the exact same PEP. Links lagging in recent years but only slightly. Slaughters obviously has no US presence and has historically lagged with pay, but they have by far the highest profitability. Not clear why you think FDB is in a better position to pay these levels than the others.

Committed Associate

The sort of move a satellite office of a US firm pulls to poach talent away. I work at US and I’ve never seen them across any of our deals (and we work on the largest most complex mandates). Why would anyone move here?


Sound a lil salty committed associate

Slaughters NQ with a varied diet of public and private M&A

Totally agree. It’s very telling that FBD feels the need to increase salaries to stem the heavy flow of departures. Very clear to most juniors that choosing prestige and deal quality over money is the wise choice in the long term.

FBD associate

There has been no flow of departures… attrition has never been lower?

Committed Associate

*I work at SM


This is going to kickstart across the board wage increases


Will this pay war trickle to other firms you reckon?


If a US firm increases to £190k for NQ because of this then I’ll eat my shoe.

US firm associate

To all the comments saying US firms will increase to 190 or 200k – they won’t because that would put them above the Cravath scale at current exchange rates.

People need to understand that US salaries in London are not driven by London, it will take an NY (or Chicago) raise to change London rates. This is usually driven by Cravath’s increases in December (which is usually re-raised once or twice).

Top US firms just pay Cravath at varying exchange rates (or lower than Cravath for some mid tier US firms.

US Lawyer

This is very true, although there a load of US firms paying under Cravath and so it may cause some movements in those firms.

US trainee

Agreed. The likes of Jones Day (currently £145k NQ) will probably be shifting their NQ salaries in the next year or so. Not that there was much of an incentive to join Jones Day in the first place.

none available

You mean you’ll eat your white show? *ba dum tss*


Ashurst will you increase?

W&C will you increase?


W&C increased very recently. Do not see it. Would appreciate any insight from any associates there however…


I heard FBD also upped the hours targets. FBD give with one hand and take away with the other?


I want to know this too. FF insiders, have hours targets gone up?


This is the equivalent of commenting “first” under a new YouTube vid or celeb insta post.


Quite tragic behaviour, William


Lisan Al Gaib!


If I was junior lawyer at Shearman right now as part of the merger with A&O I would feel like such an L

Pay war commences

A&O Shearman will rise soon to retain talent. Just like the other MC firms. And US firms will soon be offering £200k+. It continues…


We will definitely match, rumours have been brewing here for a while


Why cut the salaries of incoming s&s lawyers then?


Because it would obviously lead to inequality among peers and thus rumblings.


Because they can’t pay the A&O NQs and S&S NQs two different rates? Utterly ridiculous question


This is such a W from FF


Incoming US firm increase to £200,000k


I don’t think even the best paid lawyers in the industry earn £200,000k

Additional Rate Blues

Well, at least not post-tax in the People’s Socialist Republic of Britain.

Even US NQs would have to work quite a few years to make £200m…


3PQE at Kirkland breaches well past it


The absolutely perfect response to A&O having the S&S NQs take a paycut. Statement.




CC insider here. We’ll match soon. Need to check bonuses first.


What’s the breakdown of current bonuses?


10% if you reach 1900 billable, or 12.5% if you reach 2000 billable.


Way, way, way more than that up the chain.

I got a 50% bonus last year, and it wasn’t even the maximum.


Pinsets or Dentons will you increase ? Or wishful thinking?


Which city firm is left that hasn’t increased in a while and might do given this news?


Any news on Price Prior LLP raising soon?

Price Prior LLP

This made me die 😂😂😂


Red Lion Trauma

This is funny




Will be interesting to know if this properly filters across the PQE scale and not just a headline grabber given much of the press incessantly focuses on NQ rates.

Interesting that FF 2nd year trainees are now only earning a few grand less than top US rate for 2nd year trainees. Will top US trainee rates exceed 70,000 a few months from now lol ? C. 70k was going NQ rate for many silver circle firms when my year was graduating uni.

If this meaningfully filters up the PQE scale (meaning all juniors and mid years at top US are earning just 15% less at FF), it shifts the calculus towards some US juniors in certain practice areas strategically choosing to ply their trade at FF for a couple years to gain some more specialist experience. Like it or not, FF still tends to dominate in terms of volume of deals across EMEA M&A and cap markets even if not always with the most super premium clients. Wouldn’t hurt doing a couple years at FF cranking out hundred SPAs (or whatever is your transaction document of choice) for breakfast given FF’s massive volume of mid market clients. Before going back to a small office of US firm at a more senior level to re-leverage that greater specialist expertise.


Is M&A work hard churning SPAs and all that?


Not sure I understand where the suggestion that FBD’s work/clients are ‘mid market’ is coming from. They advise a quarter of the FTSE 100, as well as a bunch of the elite PE houses. They’ve done some pretty high-profile mandates recently (like the UBS / CS merger).

City lawyer

It’s a crazy comment. FF was far and away the top M&A firm in EMEA in 2023 by deal value. Average deal size was just under $1b. If that’s mid-market then I’d love to see what the premium market is.


Lots of misunderstanding here. Was not saying all FF do is mid market. Point was they do A LOOOOOT MORE of it compared to US firms, hence why they dominate on overall deal volume in EMEA.

At a top US firm your rates can often be too expensive when pitching for a lot of EMEA mid market deals given the significant price gap of legal advice between the US market and Europe. So this work lands with magic circle and FF who can outbid with an army of cheaper European salaried lawyers.

In a market environment like now with higher interest rates and uncertainty across elite PE, there are less deals to go around on the super premium side. As a US firm lawyer you’re expected to work more broadly and think on your feet – objective of a US firm is to constantly adapt by chasing whatever is the current rave for super premium clients. But this naturally means you may not get extreme mastery doing one specific work product. For example, as an FF M&A Associate you’re likely to do a lot SPA work on both seller and buyer side (and both for PE and strategic), while for a US firm you’re more likely to do just buyer side working for PE. A firm like FF will also have a much more varied knowledge base of English law precedents for you to get exposed to over time, given it’s been at the top of U.K. market for many decades and basically invented from scratch some of the agreements that are now market standard.

As one approaches Partnership and tries to build a business case, there is significant value in having extreme mastery of one type of work product, having seen 100s of examples of it from all angles the market has to offer. It’s not all you need to be a successful Partner but it will help you stand out at a US firm when making a move at a senior level, particularly if you are also good on the BD side (which is the skill most US firm lawyers are otherwise solely focused on).

This is why senior lawyers at firms like FF tend to be feeders to US firms growing out their London office – US firms have the better BD relationships with top PE houses from America but senior FF and other magic circle lawyers have more English law experience to service those clients on whatever particular niche type of deal they are currently excited by.

Magic circle lawyers have specialised on a narrower set of work product over and over again for both elite and smaller mid market clients.


This doesn’t make sense – Kirkland actually do a lot of mid market work, and US PE shops which acquire the company naturally get instructed to sell it as well.

I would take each firm on its own traits rather than make any geographic generalisations.

FBD insider

What is “SPA work”? Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?


“US firm you’re more likely to do just buyer side working for PE…”

Maybe at Kirkland, but two of the biggest US shops in London (Latham and Paul Hastings) do largely lender side work for banks and credit funds.


also worth mentioning that FBD was in the top 10 firms for domestic US M&A last year – so is now out-competing most US firms in the US…

Life after NQ not as sunny

NQ is now 25k less than the FF senior associate salary ..

Source needed

you’re assuming that hasn’t gone up too…

Someone actually @ FBD

Lol this is just not true


The bunching is already horrendous *everywhere* that is not US. 6 or 7 PQE barely scratching above 200k.
5k steps for the rest of your career unless you make partner.


Not sure I understand where the suggestion that FBD’s work/clients are ‘mid market’ is coming from. They advise a quarter of the FTSE 100, as well as a bunch of the elite PE houses. They’ve done some pretty high-profile mandates recently (like the UBS / CS merger).


Sit back and watch the US firms respond with significant NQ wage increases

US Associate

Kirkland/LW to increase to 200k by the end of the summer? If that happens, salaries at all PQE levels will increase to align with the Cravath scale, unlike the the MC…bring it on!

Sorry live in real world

I’m sorry but £200k as an NQ is just unsustainable Lool

Denial of the Inevitable

Same was said before it hit 180k…

Level Up

W&C, welcome to the magic circle.


Who else will rise? Any K&L gates, Sheds, Norton Rose insiders heard of anything? 👀


NRF just rose so nope

Inside scoop

Any comments questioning FBD’s performance are clueless – 20% revenue growth in London this year. No salary bunching – all associates at every level got a 25k base increase. A 2-3 year PQE is now on 175k base. 40% of the (hefty) bonus just requires 1550 hours plus “on track” in appraisal. The other 60% is tiered based on number of hours. A very, very sweet deal.

I like this info

How much is the bonus?


Mid levels it can be up to 75% base. Was pretty crazy seeing it (this is with over 2150 hours though)


Urm it’s not a very, very sweet deal. FDB is one of the sweatiest firms in the City. It’s a decent deal for less than US pay on US hours, sure.

fbd kid

The comp after 2PQE gets really good with the bonus. With performance and 1750 hours bonus, you’re getting 260k and 308k in terms of total comp as a mid level and SA respectively.


Not too long ago £150k was the highest paid NQ salaries which only came from US firms in London 😅 how things have changed

Elite US firm

Aight FF you wanna play with the big boys. Aitht bet. Death row records gotta do what you gotta do.


The other MC have to raise asap. Embarrassing this is what they are paying senior associates.


Shoosmiths to rise or wishful thinking?




Where have all the cries of “UK firms can not afford to match US firms” gone, they can and always have.

As US firms are now starting to seriously take their talent pool they are playing ball. See how crabs in a bucket mentality does nothing for anyone but keep you down.


Exactly – firms like Orrick, White and Case, WilmerHale, Mayer Brown, DLA Piper etc. have similar profitabilities to Magic Circle firms and have historically made different decisions to pay (sometimes matching, sometimes higher, sometimes lower).

Pay is about supply and demand and matching monopsony prices (and price signalling as well).


Good in terms of helping UK firms maintain their reputation.

Funny thing is this only ends up being a £13k increase because of the UK’s stupid tax system, but hey, I don’t think anyone would complain about 13k either, lol.

Here’s to hoping this trickles down across the market!


Because they aren’t? It’s still at 25-30k gap at NQ level.


Half that for net pay. Not as big a leap as it used to be. The key difference however is seen up the bands in the cravath scale.

US Lawyer

Bonuses are bigger at US firms though (if the firm does full Cravath bonuses).


It is clear that FBD is the leader of the MC firms… the rest always forced to catch up. Even on a downturn market they have never decreased salaries unlike others.


Whispers that W&C top team in London are mortified by this.

Planning to increase by at least 10% to keep traditional gap between big US firms and MC, and offer a middle finger to FBD, of course.

This isn’t how the business of law works


Believe it when I see it

Fed Up Commenter

* cries in regional offices who would be very happy with 35k first year and 37k second year*


Did you just put DLA piper in same level as MC firms? Looool


News flash: DLA Piper as a whole has PEP as high as, or even exceeding Magic Circle firms.

DLA Piper UK does not, of course, but it’s not my fault that their UK arm can’t keep up with the US.


Team Kendrick or Drake ?


Kendrick 4-0 up against bbl drizzy

Mr trainee

Bakers or Hogans to rise or wishful thinking?


Question, what if have a TC with a firm and they up the NQ rates while I am in the law school?


I considered a career change into law the last time there was a salary war. Then I crunched the numbers to work out the hourly rate….

No thanks!


Quinn just raised to £180 NQ

Pay war 2024 baby!!!

They did indeed mate


Some in house salaries are now looking woeful and will surely have to rise. Even with a better work life balance the gap in salaries is becoming excessive.

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