"Do we double-down?"

The rest of the Magic Circle have refused to match Freshfields' big pay rise, for now, following the news that the firm has increased the salary for its newly-qualified solicitors to £150k.

Last week, Freshfields announced to staff it was upping NQ pay by 20% to £150k, putting it on a par with the likes of White & Case and Cooley. 

In the previous round of Magic Circle pay rises, Freshfields was also the first out of the blocks, in April 2022, when it increased NQ pay to £125k. Clifford Chance quickly followed in May 2022. However, it took Linklaters and A&O a year to catch-up, in May 2023, as the firms said they wouldn't "rush into matching" the wage. While Slaughter and May held out the longest, only copying its rivals  in November 2023.  

RollOnFriday asked the rest of the Magic Circle firms if they were planning to match Freshfields' pay rise, but none of them confirmed they would do so, at this stage. A Clifford Chance spokesperson would only say: "Each year, we review, update and publish over summer (usually June)", which gives the CC bean counters around a month to mull it over.  

At the newly merged A&O Shearman, NQ salary is £125k (the same as it was for A&O NQs, but a drop from the £145k that Shearman used to pay its London NQs). The Magic Circle/White Shoe combo firm would not be drawn on whether it would raise NQ salary to copy Freshfields.

Linklaters and Slaughter and May also kept shtum. Slaughters reviews salaries in April and November, so that's half a year for it to consider what to do in this game of chicken. Although the firm's model differs from the rest of the Magic Circle, as it offers pay progression for associates every six months, and no billable hours targets. 

Meanwhile, the top paying US firms across the City have splashed the cash on salary rises for their newly qualified solicitors, this year including Cleary (£164.5k), Ropes & Gray (£165k), Sidley Austin (£166.5k), Weil (£170k), Davis Polk (£170k) and Paul Hastings (£173k). But Gibson Dunn offers the biggest carrot, for now, paying its NQs a base salary of £180k. 

In the latest comments from the in-house lawyer survey, a number of clients said that they want junior lawyers' salaries to stop increasing, as they believe the cost is being reflected in their invoices. One GC in a bank said: "Stop the salary inflation. If you want to pay your associates huge salaries, take it out of partner remuneration."

If your firm is raising NQ pay, do get in touch. Or if you're in-house and have something to say about the City pay war, have your say in the survey below. 

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Anon 10 May 24 08:05

Sensible from the other firms.  Otherwise it becomes a ridiculous chasing tails situation.  It also makes it more likely as an Nq that you'll be let go just as soon as times get tough.  

Anonymous 10 May 24 08:51

Honest question (as a 10 year PQ in the regions that has never been good enough for biglaw) what are the NQs doing for that kind of wedge? . 

@Anonymous 10 May 24 08:51 10 May 24 09:36

Being available at close to all hours of the day and most days of the year, in order to do work which is extremely dull whilst simultaneously requiring strong attention to detail, and having the communication nous to explain complicated concepts to demanding clients and keep them happy.

It's not brain surgery, and it doesn't require one to be a genius (or even particularly smart at all - I certainly am not). But it does require quite substantial reserves of resilience, stamina, and interpersonal skills. 

FF Senior Ass. 10 May 24 09:38

@Anonymous 08:51 - nothing special other than being available all the time, as with any NQ (particularly here where they get just 3 months before rotating in some seats) all you get is a blank canvas. 

As an 8PQ at FF the pay is good enough, but there is definitely bunching (and opaqueness as you get higher), which makes many nod their heads when you see comments about NQ pay being too high.

Anonymous 10 May 24 09:42

@anonymous 10 May 24 09:21


I've heard rumours you can use google to find out information.

Anonymous 10 May 24 09:42

"what are the NQs doing for that kind of wedge?"

Let's just say that the photocopiers at Freshfields need extremely regular visits from technicians.

And you can't buy Sudocrem from any of the local pharmacies because they're perennially out of stock.


Anon 10 May 24 09:50

There is more pressure on W&C to increase than the other MC firms... they're not stupid enough.

Anonymous 10 May 24 09:58

Really don't think the Magic Circle makes any sense as a concept these days:

Slaughter and May... has never been like the other. Much more profitable and much less international

CC and Links.... the most similar to each other of the bunch. Links seems to have lost half of its partners in the last couple of years and has completely failed to make any inroads into the US. CC has done slightly better in this regard but has been trying the longest.

Freshies... on an upward trajectory compared to the others. Their American drive has been very impressive so far with some big name US partner arrivals. The NQ salary rise is a clear signal. 

A&O Shearman... the next Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. It won't be that bad but with Shearman they're getting nothing to speak of. They'll get rid of all Shearman people outside the US and Shearman in the US is a busted flush. 

Anon 10 May 24 10:09


They are being beasted regularly doing things like managing paralegals in a first level document review; managing documents in large transaction; if they are lucky then  being allocated research tasks by senior associates; taking notes on client calls.  And so on.  

They are there to be billed out at £500,000 a year plus.  

Anon 10 May 24 10:11

"having the communication nous to explain complicated concepts to demanding clients and keep them happy."

NQs are not allowed anywhere near clients in terms of explaining complex ideas and advising them.  Senior associates often aren't.   Partners want to be seen and need to be seen to be leading it.  Clients don't want juniors advising them.  They won't trust the advice.  

The communication requirement comes internally in explaining to stressed out senior associates and partners what you have done in an excel spreadsheet to record all the transaction documents.   

R 10 May 24 10:16

Freshfields are in a league of their own. They are making great inroads in the US and profitability and revenue up heftily year on year. They are always the first to increase salary and didn’t make any pay cuts during covid like the other MC firms. There used to be a time when pay rises were done in unison between the MC but the fact the others can no longer keep up shows how their prestige has fallen. That’s just at the associate level. At the partner level firms like Linklaters are being decimated of talent by US shops. 

Anonymous 10 May 24 10:18

So many articles about how numerous law firms are irresponsibly driving up the pay levels for NQs.  This isn't a sustainable business model.  Inexperienced NQs simply are not worth this level of pay.  There's plenty of partners throughout the UK who aren't worth this level of pay!

And frankly as an NQ, the expectations of you based on this level of pay must be utterly ludicrous.  Is it really a worthwhile tradeoff to sacrifice your personal time and mental wellbeing for the demands of a role paying that salary?


Nexis 10 May 24 10:22

@anonymous American it's sort of the same as a first year attorney (but not exactly as NQs will have done two years in a firm on a training contract before becoming NQs whereas first year attorneys are fresh out of law school with just a summer scheme or two behind them for actual firm experience.

Dearie 10 May 24 10:40

I’d like to know what 5-8PQE are coining if the NQs are starting so high. I imagine it will have to bunch up somewhere, which in turn might provide some interesting results for retention at that middle level.

@Anon 10 May 24 10:11 10 May 24 11:06

I'm 2PQE in a magic circle (not FF) department, and lawyers of my seniority are absolutely expected to handle clients ourselves (whether over calls or on email). The bigger the matter and the more important the client, the more partners will be involved (and they'll be copied into emails and invited to the calls in any event) but the business model explicitly requires juniors to lead on most matters. If partners devoted substantial amounts of their time to each client, they wouldn't be able to bring in enough clients to deliver the profits which the MC generates - there simply wouldn't be enough hours in the day. 

Obviously with different firms your mileage may vary - but I don't think my firm is particularly unusual amongst City firms. The only firms I work across from where partners seem to do substantial work are small boutiques and large "commodity" firms where partners are glorified senior associates.

Phil 10 May 24 11:32

Lots of comments criticising NQ pay as unsustainable but not the multi million pound partner compensation packages and £2k/hour charge out rates that have gone up stratospherically in the last decade. All you hear partners brag about nowadays is how they’re already buying their fourth house and fifth supercar while moaning associate pay is too high. 

Anon 10 May 24 12:33


The point is not that NQs don't have client contact or handle them, it's whether - as was claimed - they take the lead in advising on complex legal points.  There is a huge difference between an NQ sending a document to the client and saying what it is and basic information being requested, or setting up a meeting with an agenda, versus advising on the key legal issues and key factors in the deal or matter.  Clients want a partner to do that, it's what they are paying for, if NQs do this then clients won't pay for Senior Associates and also those seniors will get royally pissed off, and in any event Partners have to supervise the matter so letting an NQ who is very raw and has no or little experience loose on a client advising on complex issues is reckless.  

The post office inquiry with BD and "that" email is a case in point as to what can happen when you let an Nq send an advisory email.  

Anonymous 10 May 24 13:56

Travers NQ salaries to fall once the firm inevitably collapses or gets bought by a US firm

Freaky Deaky 10 May 24 14:07

I honestly don't understand the insane trajectory of NQ salaries over the past couple of years. To put things into context, as a 7PQE at a MC firm in 2021 my base was £133k - how far things have come. What is the rationale here? MC firms bleat on about "attracting the best talent" but there is a massive oversubscription of wannabe lawyers from Russell group unis who, in my experience, are largely fungible . NQ cohorts are inevitably a mixed back and to my mind it would make more sense to have a more modest base but significantly larger potential bonus for those who actually merit it.

@Anon 10 May 24 12:33 10 May 24 14:39

With the best will in the world you're moving the goalposts somewhat. Nobody suggested that junior lawyers "take the lead in advising on complex legal points". The point is that they are the people who manage transactions and provide day-to-day advice to the client. They are expected to consult with partners (who remain fully visible and have oversight of all client communications) on any legal points where there is any uncertainty, but are otherwise supposed to (and do) take things forward themselves. The idea that the job of a junior associate (I accept a brand-new NQ is a slightly different kettle of fish) is just sending round agendas and explaining what documents mean is just not how things work these days.

@Anon 14:39 10 May 24 14:58

What was said at 0936, which started this, was that NQs are paid high sums because they need to have "the communication nous to explain complicated concepts to demanding clients and keep them happy."

It is the reference to explaining "complicated concepts to clients" that is at play here.   Given NQs are lawyers, and provide legal advice, it is safe to conclude that the complicated concepts that are being explained are ones relating to legal issues.   As you have said, document management and admin isn't complex so the reference must be to something more.   

So we are then back to the point that NQs are simply not giving complicated legal advice to clients, for all the reasons above.  

Anon 10 May 24 16:33

"At the partner level firms like Linklaters are being decimated of talent by US shops."

Someone's been spending too much time on The Lawyer. Linklaters lost 12 partners as laterals in 2023. It promoted 41, and hired more. It still has nearly 550. Not really decimated, is it?

Same old Same old 10 May 24 16:57

People have been having this same conversation on here for 20+ years.

OMG ! They’re not worth it ! 

Well tbh they are; thats the market; has been for decades. Firms are payiing for a combination of real dedication and stamina, being very bright and having the potential to be the very best at doing something that often manages to be both incredibly stressful and insufferably dull. There arent that many people capable of doing it and willing to do it. And of those that are-  the highest paying firms want the very best of them. Then over a career they get whittled dowm to those that can keep up amd monetise it over long periods. For every 10 trainees only 1 or 2 will make it to partner at the highest level.  Firms maybe overpay the 8 or 9 a bit because nobody knows who will survive and want to keep going. And tbh they generally get more than their money’s worth out of the 8 or 9.

Everyone knows  this is the deal. Everyone knows that there are brighter more capable people doing other stuff that isnt as monetisable. 

Every year the same old shock and disgust at the same old story…

And the same old GC quote about paying too much.  But I can absolutely guarantee if I turned up as. 20PQE sole trader and offered to do the same stuff, or more technical stuff, better and far cheaper, most of the same GCs would laugh at the suggestion. 

Response to 16:33 10 May 24 23:31

Decimated of talent - quality not quantity. The partners they have been losing are their very best experienced partners (particularly in corporate) and department heads. Are you really trying to compare a baby faced junior partner promotion to those rainmaker departures? That is exactly how the calibre of a firm declines. 

Anonymous 11 May 24 01:37

"with Shearman they're getting nothing to speak of" 

I can't imagine how smooth of a brain someone must have, or perhaps how deep one's head must be up one's derriere, to think they could denigrate shearmen. Sherman is more prestigious than any firm the UK has. It's one of the most prestigious firms in the United States and always has been and you should look up it's most recent cases and Deals before you make such an ignorant statement.


Anon 11 May 24 22:52

Being at a firm of dumbos (not MC but silver circle) where people are getting 100k is just a joke. You don’t need brains, you simply need to get along with toxic people and play politics or else be super hot. Everyone knows how to rename disclosure docs and do some footnotes, let’s b serious now. 

missing perspective 12 May 24 13:09

What surprises me whenever this topic comes up is the lack of appreciation for how much longer and more expensive we have made the runway for anyone wishing to enter the profession. 

If you wished to qualify in 1970, you didn't need a degree - but if you wanted one, tuition was free. You did the Law Society's course plus exams, and 2-4 years of Articles. All paid work, as far as I understand (but I'm grateful if people with personal experience correct me). Then you qualified and progressed as best you could. Mind the examples of 4PQE solicitors made partner, incl in the Magic Circle. No doubt they were exceptional - but today, they are an impossibility.

Bearing in mind the growing chasm between house prices and earnings over the past several decades, I think by and large juniors have been, and continue to be, underpaid, not overpaid. Go for it, vote with your feet.


Anonymous 13 May 24 13:26

NQ salaries send a signal to the market about where pay is at the firm overall. Once you're 3+ year PQE in, different people are getting different salaries depending on all kinds of opaque metrics and with the fairness, transparency and numeracy that one can expect from organisations ultimately owned and managed by lawyers. So no one (as a rule) talks about what pay is for anyone above 2 years PQE.


That pay signal gives people an expectation about how much they can expect to be earning (not just at the NQ level) as well as telling the market how well you're doing and where people can expect to be on the poverty vs beasting spectrum. This in turn helps you get suitable laterals and also more suitable trainee applicants (on paper at least- it's very unpredictable how good someone will be from their application). 

Perplexed in-house lawyer 15 May 24 09:08

I took a pay cut to go in-house, but do find myself a bit surprised that an NQ at Freshfields who barely knows how to arrange a call getting base pay equal to my total comp at 9PQE - and I am on any analysis paid well. 

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