Freshfields just missed out on qualification for an officially great pay score, with staff awarding it 68% in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2019 survey.
Those who commented had quibbles, however. "Trying to fob us off by not giving us a pay rise 'but you can have this shiny iPad' is laughable", said one respondent. Although a peer boasted "GBP285k plus bonus on top". On level pegging with 68%, pay at Reed Smith "Would have been good if our hours were not increasing year on year", said a junior solicitor. "The bonus in 2018 was actually generous, despite getting the same appraisal as previous years", said a female fee-earner. "I wonder if it was anything to do with the pay-gap report..."
At Simmons & Simmons (66%), the bonus "has now been made entirely discretionary with measures against things like recovery and pro-bono taken into account". But, said a miffed junior solicitor, "recovery is not my problem if a partner cannot scope a matter properly". A senor solicitor said the bonus revamp was "a fairly clear ploy to ensure that partners can blow smoke up their favourites' backsides and screw everyone else over". Unless "one is also either (i) a member of the glorified fintech or life science teams, or (ii) willing to kiss a hell of a lot of ass, salaries really need to improve".
There were grumbles at Herbert Smith Freehills (66%) that "What is publicised is not what you get in reality". The pay was "ok and it would be wrong to complain", said a trainee. "What is a little annoying is how the firm is trying to massage the figures to make the salaries look better in the legal press than they really are..." But others said that HSF pay was "about standard for Magic Circle and those around it".
At DLA Piper (64%), the pay outside London "is good compared to the region (probably the highest)", said one solicitor, "which is nice". However, "it's a clear £30k between us and London which sometimes feels a little off given we're billed at the same rates as our southern colleagues". It's "comparable if not better than other global law firms", said a non-fee-earner. "Though it's mostly spent on trying to repair the damage inflicted from a desk job (personal trainer, expensive ready-meals, therapist)".
"Tell me about your money."
Charles Russell Speechlys (64%) pays "well below market rate" claimed a junior solicitor, "despite the constant bleating of the heavily over-staffed HR department". "Pay discussions every year are painful", said a colleague, "as the partners roll out the same line that the pay is in line with our competitors. Obviously we all know many people at our competitors, all getting paid £15k more at least! Definitely not market". But others said pay "reflects the work ethic required, and the fact you don't need to sacrifice your life to work here". "Better than a kick in the teeth", said one lawyer, "but not by much". A partner corrected the record: "absolutely grand for the type of firm we are".
"Benchmark our work against tier 1, benchmark our pay against tier 2", complained an Ashurst (64%) lawyer. But he was outnumbered by respondents who were pleased that "salaries recently went up", apparently "in order to compensate for lack of morale and multiple exits". It may have succeeded. "Two pay rises within a year is great", said others. They "have helped a lot" and "improved morale".
Allen & Overy (64%) pay "looks alright on paper", said a solicitor, "until you're in at 4am wondering why you didn't (A) go to a US firm and at least partly justify this hell or (B) give it all up to join a commune". It's "as good as can reasonably be expected given that life is fractionally more civilised than in the US firms", contended a colleague, although a junior solicitor suggested, "As our results go up the pay... stays static".
"Would clearly rather make a US salary", said a junior solicitor at Slaughter and May (63%), "but the vast majority of people my age don't even make half of what I do". "When I am getting beasted, £83k a year is not enough to compensate for my utter lack of a life", said a peer. "At the other times in the year it is great". People "shouldn't complain", said a junior solicitor. "In my experience we don't work as long hours as people at US firms, or even the other MS firms. Anyone struggling to live off 90K+ a year needs to visit the real world".
Magic Circles were really bunched up this year. At Linklaters (62%), "It's objectively good pay (and higher than most websites advertise)" said a lawyer, "but it's still a little disheartening to be SO far behind the likes of Latham and Kirkland. Apparently there is 'significant reform' of pay coming next year, though, so we'll see..." "Much as people like to moan", said a Links trainee, "I think it's a bit cheeky to complain when you're on double the national average at 23. They got rid of trainee bonuses though, so a couple of absolute fannies will be getting the same as me which is quite annoying".
Frustration from some at Mishcon de Reya (60%), where "SEP's take home an awful lot of money" according to a junior solicitor, "but fee earners get sent an email saying 'it's been a bad year, but you're lucky, we've been generous and found £2m for a bonus pot' - £2m split across all employees is piss all. It's insulting, especially given the hours we now work".
Quite a few Irwin Mitchell (60%) respondents said progress had been made since last year, when the firm was the Golden Turd, in attempting to remedy issues with pay. But just as many had issues. "Would be happy with my pay", said a senior solicitor, "but for the fact I know the hugely inflated packages that partners and other senior managers are on"
"Work in PI, make all the money, get paid less than the corporate lawyers on another floor who make no money whatsoever year after year", said an IM lawyer. "Constantly lectured about being 'One IM' but seems like some areas are more One IM than others. It's like a George Orwell novel".
"The firm has addressed previous criticism of pay and is now competitive", offered a partner. "Shit", offered a senior solicitor.
The comment about fee-earners at Simmons being paid more for being in the FinTech or Healthcare & Life Sciences teams is an odd one, and manifestly not true at present. Does that fee-earner genuinely believe that lawyers operating in those teams would get paid more than, say, the lawyers in the Financial Institutions sector? Whether salaries at the firm generally match those of its competitors is an entirely separate question.
Salaries at Simmons are well below market and an insult given how hard we all work. The bonus system is a joke - favourites and kiss asses only get rewarded (and not by much) while the EPs rake it in. They’ll lose good fee earners if they don’t increase base pay soon.
What a sheltered, shallow, selfish and narrow little world so many of us lawyers inhabit.
We get obsessed with pay and status and many moan that they are only earning sums of which fraction would feed starving children in many many places or the world right now, or pay for medicine.
As indicated above, there seems to be a total disconnect from reality and a total lack of proportionality in the complaints about “only” earning £80-90k.