US firms have the most satisfied staff when it comes to salary making up the top five firms in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2020 survey for pay, as was the case last year.
Staff at the top 11 firms gave scores of 75% upwards to illustrate that they were mainly satisfied or very satisfied when pay day comes round each month. No firm scored more than 85%.
Kirkland & Ellis and Shearman & Sterling were joint-top of the table with their handsomely rewarded staff giving their firms an overall score of 85%. "You'd have to be a dick to moan" about salary said one junior lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis. "No complaints here - the Yanks pay well" said a colleague. "$$$$" was how one lawyer summed up their salary packet. "Always top of the market" boasted a partner.
At Shearman & Sterling (85%) a senior lawyer said salary was "not K&E level, but then we're not working at K&E either, thank God". Another lawyer said pay was "great relative to the expectation in terms of workload". There were a few grumbles as "the bonus structure is entirely opaque and at the discretion of partners in your practice group" according to one lawyer. But partners were "generally quite good at respecting some work/life balance as a trade-off".
Ropes & Gray scored an impressive 84%. It pays "top dollar" said one lawyer. Another respondent said that while remuneration wasn't "quite as much as the very top paying US firms" there also wasn't an "aggressive environment". A few respondents were positive about the firm's "black box system" for partners (where pay is decided by management and details aren't shared across the firm) as they said it "allows a lot of flexibility for merit based financial reward" and also "limits partner politics around compensation."
"Salary is not US but it keeps up with the Magic Circle" said a senior lawyer at Mayer Brown (82%). One junior lawyer candid's opinion was "like all City lawyers, we're paid way too much". But another senior lawyer said that while pay was "good" the "bonus scheme needs a proper overhaul" as it's "basically overtime".
Staff handed Weil a mark of 81%."The money is great. It's what stops me leaving" said one senior lawyer, before admitting "but only because I'm saving up so that I can afford to leave." A senior lawyer said his salary was "like winning the lottery every month." Although one lawyer said that salary was "not the best in the market" as it wasn't "pegged to NY as per peer firms" but believed that "culture at the firm makes up for it".
Macfarlanes (78%) was highly-rated for pay, with one junior lawyer revealing (but hopefully not putting into practice): "enough dollar to use £20s as bog roll, but the geezers over the road at Weil use £50s. Still, not to be sniffed at."
The bogs at Macfarlanes. How they might look
A trainee at Macfarlanes said he was on the receiving end of "a thorough shafting in November/December" but the arrival of a £100 Christmas gift voucher made everything seem somewhat okay." His conclusion:"I have realised how easily I can be bought out".
At Trowers & Hamlins (78%) a senior lawyer said "I would definitely like more, but I don't want to be the dad from every cheesy Christmas film that never turns up to his kid's school productions." A junior lawyer said "regional pay is more a less on a par with other regional based firms" but added "when you have a lot of work and are expected to work long hours, the disparity with London seems unfair."
Lawyers at Travers Smith (77%) were generally satisfied with pay, although one senior lawyer pointed out the firm didn't pay US rates and "in the past couple of years it has lagged behind the Magic Circle" but overall "it represents a fair package for the work that we do." However a junior lawyer disagreed, saying "the pay could be more given that we do similar work to Magic Circle and American firms - we are quite often on the other side of a transaction with them."
White & Case (76%) was another firm where staff were generally happy with pay, but some lawyers looked over the fence at their ludicrously-paid peers at BigLaw firms. "Pay is very good when compared to the market generally, but falling behind the 'mid-Atlantic' target the firm traditionally seeks to offer." Another junior lawyer said "There is general unhappiness amongst associates with the continued pay freeze - we're not keeping pace with US rivals and the Magic Circle are now almost at a level-pegging."
At Mishcon de Reya (75%) a partner said pay was "fair, transparent and at a senior level there are opportunities to be involved in the remuneration committee." But a junior lawyer believed "there's zero transparency" with salary "below market rate" and "lateral hires getting paid more than those of us with Stockholm syndrome."
"Market-leading salary in Bristol" said a junior lawyer at Osborne Clarke (75%) but felt it could be "too low for the London-style hours" that some teams can face. He added "the firm is precious over its culture (and it's a brilliant culture), but using this as an excuse to justify not having target hours-linked bonuses doesn't fly any more when the culture has become a bit more London-y in terms of hours." However, a partner said "OC is transparent about pay in a way that my previous (London and International) law firm could only dream of." She added "the best performing partners are less concerned about creaming off the top share than making sure there is investment in the future, including retention of the best people and a preservation of the all-important OC culture".