Another US firm aims for the £160k mark

RollOnFriday understands that Skadden has raised its NQ salary in the UK to £157k - although the firm has yet to confirm. 

A source told RollOnFriday that the firm has "matched the new Davis Polk scale", not just in the US but in London, too, where the "new NQ rate is £157k backdated to 1 Jan 2022". Skadden has been contacted for comment.

Meanwhile, Dechert has lifted its NQ base salary in London from £125k to £140k, with effect from January, not including a discretionary bonus. Trainees at the firm are paid £50k (first year) and £55k (second year), so that's a leap of £85k on qualification. 

However, in common with lots of firms, salary stutters a bit post qualification thanks to the pay war's focus on NQs, whose salaries are widely published. Dechert's 1PQE lawyers are paid £140k (the same as NQs*), 2PQE lawyers are paid £145k, while 3PQE lawyers are on £160k.

Dechert is not alone in condensing the pay rises after the initial NQ splurge, and the world's smallest violin would probably accompany any 3PQE lawyer who might moan at being paid £160k plus bonus. But in the RollOnFriday Firm of the Year 2022 survey there were some senior lawyers across firms, complaining about rises in junior pay not being reflected in higher bands.

"Pay is great if you are a junior but the gap between newly qualified and senior associate pay is becoming extremely narrow," said a senior lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills.  "Senior associate salaries haven’t risen in line with the (ridiculous) junior salaries," said a Clifford Chance lawyer, "meaning that I’m earning only a few £K per year of expertise more than an NQ." A Dentons senior lawyer said salary at their level was "squeezed whilst big pay jumps are seen at the junior level".

Chris Field, a member of Dechert's London management committee told RollOnFriday: “We remain focused on attracting and retaining the highest quality talent to provide our clients with innovative and excellent service. We believe that the combination of our firm culture and competitive, performance-oriented compensation packages offers a compelling proposition.”

The pay rises come at a time when Dechert posted global revenue of USD1.341bn for 2021, a 25% rise from the previous year, with profit per equity partner at USD4.231m. 

Dechert's NQs will be on the same salary as White & Case. And the firm joins the £140k+ club  of US firms including Willkie Farr, MoFo, Cleary, Ropes & Gray, WeilShearman & Sterling, Debevoise & Plimpton, Latham & Watkins, Milbank, Akin Gump, Simpson ThacherKirkland & EllisMilbank, McDermott Will & EmeryVinson & Elkins (£153k) and Fried Frank (£160k). 

Taking up the plushest seats in the club, Goodwin Procter pays its NQs a base salary of £161,500.

But not everyone is convinced that the huge pay rises across the City are a good strategy. DWF's CEO, Sir Nigel Knowles, recently spoke out against spraying junior lawyers with cash, saying that “offering more and more money to young people is only a sticking plaster." And that such hikes are "not a sincere, sustainable or healthy solution for anyone," he said.

And Charles Russell Speechlys (that pays its NQs a salary of £68k) told RollOnFriday earlier this month that its approach was "not to make knee jerk reaction changes in response to these unprecedented labour market fluctuations, driven by US and Magic Circle Firms".

Is your firm raising pay by huge amounts, a fraction, or not at all? Get in touch. 

* N.B. Dechert only accepts September qualifiers, and so the firm's NQs will be on £140k from September to December and then the following full 12 months as a 1PQE. So qualified lawyers will spend a maximum of 16 months before getting some sort of pay rise, not 24 months (and it could even be less than 16 months, as the firm reviews salary bands every year).

Tip Off ROF


RPC associate 25 February 22 08:48

Meanwhile at RPC:

1) salaries are almost bottom of the market

2) salaries are also down 7% on last year in real terms because of inflation

3) take home pay will drop in April because the NICs increase

4) partner profits are up by 50%.

Happy Friday everyone!







Interesting 25 February 22 10:35

Anyone know what it’s like working at Skadden? Feel like it used to be the top US dog and now somewhat eclipsed by Kirkland, Latham etc. Private equity outshining M&A I suppose

Realist 25 February 22 11:00

Yeah take Kirkland or STB for PE deals but, if M&A is your thing, Skadden is definitely one of the leading firms

Legalease 25 February 22 12:07

Heard it’s a brutal place to work though and half of that whack will go straight to HMRC. Would rather have a decent salary and some free time but each to their own

Sweat Shop Worker 25 February 22 12:25

Just to say it, I understand the Magic Circle 4PQE angst about "bunching" but amongst the "top" (I cringe) US firms, there is no equivalent problem as they all follow the same Davis Polk scale. You can work out the UK pay once you figure out the USD exchange rate that each firm uses. The exchange rate mechanism is the only real point of distinction in the comp between the AmLaw Top 20 firms.

2021: $215k

2020: $225k

2019: $250k

2018: $293.5k

2017: $335k

2016: $360.5k

2015: $381k

2014: $396.5k

As the above scale demonstrates, the high NQ salaries of US firms are not there to attract new joiners so much as a reflection of the high pay throughout the scale for associates. It actually accelerates quite a bit with that $43.5k bump from 2-3 PQE because at that point in time the expectation is that people will (i) be considering the lateral market; and (ii) actually be able to do something useful besides taking notes.

The pay is elevated because US lawyers (actual US ones) have high student loans, plus the profession is better remunerated there historically. 

Poopot 25 February 22 12:29

They don't call it the Death Star for nothing. An old colleague of mine is a paralegal there, the people, I'm told, are very nice but they'll work you harder than a Blackpool donkey.  

Lol 25 February 22 12:44

@MC, keep telling yourself that as we work the same hours and earn more (both in base and bonus)

US 25 February 22 13:16

Here is the local scale (base pay in pounds) at my shop:

NQ: 161,000

1: 169,000

2. 188,000

3. 214,000

4. 243,000

5. 260,000

6. 276,000

7. 288,000

It seems like if you are at a MC firm, you will not earn more than our NQs unless you are made up or get a counsel role? Madness.

@Lol 25 February 22 13:35

At MC firms you can get away with never working a weekend and not being bothered at all when on holiday in most teams.  1600 hours per year is typical.  Is it actually possible to do that in any of the US firms paying the Davis Polk scale?  

Why ROF? 25 February 22 15:36

Why does ROF always pick a random firm to praise when the US scale moves?

Yes Skadden has matched, but so will all the usual suspects (most already have).

Skadden is a dire place to work. Basically failed to become a major M&A player in Europe and its efforts to break into PE are a joke. Plus the people there are pretty unpleasant. You’re 1000% better off at K&E or Latham for quality of work and better prospects.

Anon 25 February 22 16:27

I understand Kirkland has also rolled out the new scale in London (after matching DPW earlier this week in the US). Anybody can confirm?

US firm 25 February 22 19:09

US firm isn’t for everyone - long hours, little to no support, demanding clients. I’ve seen far too many young lawyers sunk in a US firm and quit altogether. The truth is, US firm is for those who are technically strong and ambitious - the ones who can’t work independently and handle the pressure would generally leave within 2 years. 

MC firms are steady but hours are as bad and money isn’t as great for the same amount of hours worked. That being said, cultures are arguably better. 

5PQE applicant 25 February 22 23:45

ROF should do a post on the best elite US to work for, where associates dun hafta compromise work-life balance. 


@5PQE applicant 27 February 22 06:24

Elite US ranking on hour (based on feedback from lawyers above 4PQE+):

No life: K&E, STB, PH, Latham, Skadden, Shearman

Busy: Mofo, Ropes

Average: Willkie, Dechart, Akin Gump

Good work-life balance: Goodwin, Debovoise, Faegre Drinker

Apart from Goodwin, the busy/no life category pay the most to associates above the 4QPE mark. 


Weily Wonker 28 February 22 09:15

Had proposals within Weil to lateral from my MC firm.

Anyone have any insight into life at Weil? Hours, culture, type of work? Anything beyond what google can tell me?

@willy wonker 28 February 22 13:43

No issue with the practice itself but many get dehydrated after sweating too much at work and then quit thereafter. Unless you’re desperate for the cash stick around at your current shop, have some weekends and make it to partnership. 

Junior burger 01 March 22 05:31

@5pqe applicant Thanks for the ranking as it does help a lot for people looking to move into a US firm. 

To me I feel that the “no life” bucket is what I’d wanna be in my first few years of career, to be thrown into the deep end and develop solid foundation. Seeing that each of these firms is actively hiring, any firm which I should avoid (as a junior lawyer)? 

Besides, how would Weil/Sidley/Milbank rank on the chart? 

Weily Coyote 02 March 22 23:20

@9:15-if PE, it is the sweatiest of sweat shops. Rest of firm is fine when considering the cheddar.

US MC 03 March 22 10:22

You do realise that the MC offices in the US pay top dollar, they are just stuffing you here

UK loyalist 03 March 22 13:18

Happy to earn less at a MC firm for better work life balance and firm-wide social events. We should all say no to sweat shops with abysmal culture.

I say, US firms cannot conceivably recompense you for working your arse off 24/7 without any social life. That extra bit of cash isn’t worth the effort. You’re being squeezed and you shall be disposed of.

Also, as Brits, we should support local, honest English firms such as MC/SC. Never forget the war of 1812. 

One can have a fulfilling career while earning a bit less.

Fed up with reading rubbish 03 March 22 17:15

ok let’s try to finally get an unbiased view out there because people actually looking to move need something a bit more balanced.

firstly though…

@5PQE applicant - Goodwin a good work life balance? Are you on the recruitment panel there. I know they are desperate to hire.

Goodwin churns high volume low end PE and VC deals and only pays well because of sheer volume. They win awards based on deal count but when you look at aggregate deal value it’s tiny. Goodwin isn’t in the same league as any of the other firms mentioned above.

@ the MC joker saying they can do 1600 hours and hide at weekends - they are about to get managed out or they are not comparing apples with apples.

All the US firms have narrow practice areas focusing on PE, M&A, funds, litigation, Lev Fin and Capital Markets - all those practice areas are going to involve very long hours and weekend work (where required) at any MC or US firm. Arguably worse at MC from what I’ve seen possibly because they are far less flexible (covid may have helped with that).

If you do environmental at CC you may have better hours than PE at Kirkland. But you’ve got no option to join the US firms as none of them have an environmental practice.  There are arguably a few sweet spots at some US firms like anti trust, tax and employment but to take the Goodwin life balance example - the Goodwin tax team average way way over 2000 hours and doesn’t have a good reputation for happy associates….

it’s impossible to compare is my point and that’s before personalities and working style are taken into account.

1600 hours of bad work with a partner who doesn’t care about your weekend is not going to give you a work life balance (if you get crappy emails every Friday night) and you can easily have a great work life balance on 2200 with partners who protect weekends and holidays.  I have experienced both (not quite as extreme).

The only way to compare is to compare individuals teams and partners, work out who you are going to be working with, which partners are supporting the hire, then do a social with the associates and call anyone who has left within the last year and try to get an honest answer.  It’s an associates market and there are a few horror departments with well known bullies recruiting both in MC and US firms.

Good luck to those looking at moves and don’t believe anything recruiters tell you. 

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